BeReal won’t save us from ourselves

The app is ushering in a new era of authenticity, but will toxic online perfectionism ever die?

by Laura Pitcher
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28 July 2022, 3:49pm

Photo via Twitter

If you’ve downloaded the new social media app BeReal recently, you (and an approximate 7.41 million others) will be getting the notification that “It’s time to BeReal.” Already meme-ified on Twitter, this daily reminder, sent out at a different time each day, sets the app apart from other popular social media channels like Instagram or TikTok. On BeReal, you can only post once a day, your front and back camera are both involved and you can only view friend's posts if you participate. Plus, once that notification hits you only have two minutes to take a photo. The app, which was founded in 2020 by Alexis Barreyat along with Kévin Perreau, provides a much-needed alternative platform with a focus on fun, connection and authenticity. Its purpose is in the name: BeReal wants us to finally be real online — but is that actually possible? And are we ready for it? 

While studies back up the idea that authentic self-expression on social media is associated with greater well-being, online culture encourages one-dimensional performance. TikTok creators who go viral for one particular type of content find themselves sticking to that niche in order to retain interest (like creating viral manifestations or “that girl” morning routine videos). Instagram influencers, meanwhile, are expected to live in an alternate reality where everything is aesthetically pleasing. For 26-year-old content creator Shuang Bright, this is where BeReal already has a point of difference. “I use BeReal as a very unfiltered form of social media. I don’t care about it very much or try to look good. I also don’t add many people so it’s something I keep to my closest friends,” Shuang says, noting that she currently only has 20 friends on the “anti-Instagram” app. “Right now, with the rise of filters and FaceTune, authenticity is something that people care about a lot.”

Despite this, Shuang says she’s already noticing that people wait until they’re doing something “interesting” before posting their daily “BeReal”. Therefore it’s possible the attempt to be “authentic”, is once again being curated. 

With wealthy celebrities like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa “shitpostingblurry photo dumps on Instagram and being more unfiltered on main, a new app that is less pressured and less professional has been a long time coming. Accelerated by a growing disdain for out-of-touch celebrities and influencers during the pandemic (hello Kylie and Travis’ two private jets), Shuang says being relatable and accessible has become the new social media currency. Thus, influencers like Emma Chamberlain rise to fame without us realising that, at a certain point, they’re in a far different tax bracket. 

Neema Githere, who describes themselves as a “guerrilla theorist and curator” whose work explores “love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris,” says transparency online is possible, but authenticity online will always be “a bit of a mirage”. “These platforms simply cannot hold the true range of who we are and what we hold, so this trend of trying to be authentic online is a bit of a trap that serves to further keep us attached to these platforms – stuck in the same performance spirals,” she says. “The attempt to be ‘authentic’ is a premature endeavour in the face of widespread algorithmic nudging.”

The nature of an algorithm inspires us to fit ourselves into narrow content categories or niches, which of course can’t capture the true depth of the human experience. It’s also impossible not to “curate” even the most casual photos within the camera frame. With this in mind, BeReal might not be achieving true online “authenticity”, but it does signal a further distancing from influencer culture as a whole. To many, the app reminds them of the heyday of social media, where Facebook feeds were filled with albums of sleepover photoshoots and no one seemed to have a ‘professional announcement’. “Influencer culture is absolutely dying, and Instagram is dying along with it,” Neema says. “Spontaneity is ‘in’, spending a lot of time curating posts is ‘out’.”

New York model Gabrielle Richardson downloaded BeReal on Memorial Day this year after a friend recommended it. “It’s like the sporting event of social media. It’s really ‘you have to be there’ energy'‘,” she says. Gabrielle welcomes the app and the more relaxed, casual era of influencer culture. “It’s becoming less about curating your life and more about living your life. Where people used to post photos of them going to the angel wings wall in Los Angeles, now everyone is posting having a picnic with their friends or even laying in bed.” Gabrielle, however, does admit that even that is curated. “Authenticity is very difficult to put online. No matter how transparent you are, it’s still a curated experience,” she adds.

It’s true that our multifaceted personalities and interests will never fit into a box or onto a screen, and with that acceptance comes the enjoyment of social media for what it actually is — entertainment. “‘Head empty’ posting is countercultural at this point,” Neema says. “It concedes that we can’t ever truly share the multitude of who we are online; and opts to instead lean into a consciously narrowed depiction of our personhood, alleviating the pressure of translating our entire identity into a grid.”

The app won’t save us from ourselves, but that’s okay. Letting go of “being real” on social media might be the key to not taking online life so seriously. After all it doesn’t matter if your post is authentically you, if you have fun sharing it. Bring on the next “it’s time to BeReal” notification.

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