BeReal, as the name of the app suggests, wants me to post my truth. Once a day randomly, I’m asked to “be real”, to capture my unfiltered life synchronously through my phone’s selfie and rear camera. There is, according to BeReal, a distinctly authentic self behind the smoke and mirrors of social media, waiting to be revealed.
BeReal’s premise is simple. Every day, users are randomly prompted to take a photo within two minutes, although the post window remains open for hours. Users can add a caption, comment on their friends’ posts of the day, and interact via RealMojis or custom reaction photos. Upon posting, two streams are unlocked, one personalized with friends’ posts and the other a discovery stream that features strangers in the midst of mostly mundane tasks. Feeds are updated once a day and messages expire once the next BeReal alert is sent, presumably to get users to put down their phones and live their “real” life after a few minutes on the app.
BeReal falls into the genre of “anti-Instagram” apps, novel photo platforms that attempt to fulfill a niche social function that Instagram lacks. In this case, it’s authenticity and an ad-free experience. “BeReal won’t make you famous,” the app says. “If you want to be an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
Every year or so, a hot new social startup emerges from the carpentry with an overconfident vision of a better, more authentic way to be online. It rarely sticks. In early 2021, the app of the day was Dispo, which simulated the experience of using a disposable camera by asking users to wait for photos to develop. Available benefited of co-founder David Dobrik’s YouTube fame, but a scandal led investors to quickly to get some distance since the start, even with the resignation of Dobrik. Later that year, Poparazzi, an app that encouraged users to take paparazzi photos of their friends, took off on TikTok. It hit the top of the App Store for a few weeks, but the infatuation soon appeased.
This year’s VC-animated and supported darling is BeReal, which is currently the second most downloaded social networking app on the App Store, behind TikTok. It was launched in December 2019, but nearly 75%, or 7.67 million, of BeReal’s downloads occurred this year, according to recent Apptopia data shared with Tech Crunch. The app recently closed a Series B funding round and is expected to quadruple its valuation to around $630 million, reported Business Intern may’s beginning.
“We’re always looking to connect with friends in a casual way,” said Kristin Merrilees, 20, a Barnard College student and BeReal user, who also writes about culture and the internet. “I think Snapchat was that space briefly until my friends stopped using it. Now it’s BeReal that lets you peek into people’s lives throughout the day.
What is real, however, and what is fake when we spend so much of our time tethered to screens? In a commodified social media landscape, authenticity is as much a marketing buzzword as it is a a value on the screen, praised by people, brands and, of course, apps. BeReal assumes that the authentic self can be disclosed under the right conditions – that catching users off guard will lead them to abandon any pretense. And so far, users seem to buy into its pitch.
“It has the vintage feel of the early days of Instagram,” said Sasha Khatami, 21, who works in digital marketing. “I think this is an interesting shift for people like me, who have been used to posting curated content for so long, now to a reminder to post in the moment.”
BeReal’s unsubtle marketing strategy has made it a smash hit among students. The startup pays students to serve as campus ambassadors, refer friends, and host promotional events. Besides its trendy character, the app’s concept and key functions are anything but original. It’s a timely reinvention of The back and the frontan app that popularized the simultaneous selfie and rear camera photo before shutting down in 2015. Likewise, its unpredictable daily push alert mimics the engagement strategy of Minutiae, an anonymous daily photo-sharing app launched in 2017.
Yet BeReal is hardly a threat to the established hierarchy of social platforms that have built a decade-old fiefdom from our data and attention. BeReal has no intention of redoing the social internet. Instead, it operates on the fringes of this seemingly unshakeable world order and is backed by some of the same companies that funded Instagram and Twitter. (Venture capitalists are perpetually on the hunt for the next big social startup, despite his story of false starts.) Its goal, like that of most startups, is to become commercially viable, which means it must eventually find ways to make money from its users.
The app’s biggest appeal may be its current novelty and the fact that it’s not about Instagram or Snapchat. However, BeReal does not seem to be able to escape the grip of the major social networks. Merrilees noticed an increase in people sharing their BeReals on Instagram. Some are even remix them in TikToks, like a kind of memory reel. “A lot of people migrate content across different platforms,” Khatami tells me. “It feels very natural to me. I started making TikToks of my BeReal photos after seeing people post theirs.
Since BeReal is so insular, its use is highly dependent on individual circles of friends. Once people start to get tired of it, chances are their friends will too. There’s a FOMO-ish undercurrent to the hype. People download BeReal because they are curious. They don’t want to miss anything. It’s also nostalgic bait for those old enough to remember Instagram’s ad-free days. John Herrman of The Times found that it is a “reproduction of the experience of joining one of the mainstream social networks while they all still felt like toys”. BeReal’s daily reminder attempts to enforce a reflexive instinct to post and use the app, similar to how Snapchat users feel compelled to maintain their streaks. However, these alerts seem more artificial than spontaneous. They run counter not only to BeReal’s stated mission, but also to the psychological literature on authenticity and self-perception.
Authenticity is a fluid, ever-changing social construct that cannot be clearly mediated, especially through an app. In a critical review of the concept, researchers Katrina Jongman-Sereno and Mark Leary have argued that authenticity “may not be a viable scientific construct”, citing the different definitions used by psychologists, sociologists and behavioral researchers in their assessments. So why does this concern with online authenticity seem so prevalent? The internet flattens any distinction between irony and sincerity, human and machine, right and wrong. If it’s all artifice, why bother?
Our fixation on the authenticity of publication is perhaps a reflection of our anxieties about the internet and how it undermines our modern sense of self. Authenticity is a metric for measuring content and the celebrities, influencers, brands, and individuals behind the facade. “Lately, it seems like more and more people are noticing and calling out the performances on social media, like how ‘Casual Instagram’ has been identified as a trend,” said Maya Man, an artist and programmer. based in Los Angeles. The notion of authenticity soothes the viewer, assuring them that there is some truth to what is seen online. For the poster, it’s an ego-driven ideal to aspire to or embody – even with content they’re paid to promote.
BeReal’s attempt to maintain an authentic space is far from perfect, but it poses an unanswered ontological question: Are we really ourselves on the Internet? “I consider everything you post online as a contribution to this distributed internet avatar that you perform,” Man said. “Performance is not a negative thing. It’s the fact that you have a media audience in mind, even if you’re posting to a private account.
Users who started using the internet at an early age, or “digital natives”, might share Man’s gestalt theory and are more accustomed to balancing these different personalities. That’s why people have Twitter alts, finstas, and specific accounts dedicated to food, aesthetics, or memes. Some of these disaggregated identities might be perceived as more authentic than others. Since the online self is fractured across multiple platforms and mediums, authenticity is important insofar as it is a cohesive, ready-made identity for consumption by a public audience.
In a BeReal review, Real Life magazine editor Rob Horning posits, “An even more real-life version of BeReal would simply give your friends access to your cameras and microphones without you knowing, so they could watch you and see how you act when you’re not thinking of anyone. looked. If the panoptic gaze distorts us, only voyeurism frees us.
These conditions of voyeurism were what the man sought to study by creating Looking back, a Chrome extension that unpredictably takes a webcam shot once a day when the user opens a new tab. “I was very troubled by this feeling that someone has been watching you for a long time and you don’t look back,” she told me. “That’s how my computer feels all day, and we don’t have the ability to care about its sight.”
Even under Glance Back’s unexpected voyeurism, what he captured looked no more or less authentic than BeReal’s self-directed gaze. Glance Back catches me in a distracted, cloudy-eyed state as I convey a more serious, alert version of myself on BeReal. After a few weeks of observing the repetitive contours of my life through my browser and my phone, it dawned on me that authenticity is an easy concern, easier to grasp than our constant state of surveillance. Rather than worrying about our perceived authenticity, perhaps a better question is: why are we so willing to document ourselves to prove what we already know?