To BeReal, or not to BeReal—that is the question. Can social media ever promote authenticity?
Yet another social media platform has taken the Zoomer population by storm. This one though is different! Apparently. The time you post is in the hands of an app notification, and what you post is exactly what you’re doing at that moment. You have to BeReal. Downloaded 28 million times, BeReal has recently gained a lot of traction. It’s a platform that strives to be more authentic, preventing users from carefully editing their posts, and exposing how people really spend their days. But is this claim to authenticity not the slightest bit ironic? Can any social media app be genuinely authentic? Maybe they were before the apps gained so much popularity and an unspoken standard for content was set.
However, I think it’s pretty obvious that the content we consume nowadays on social media is not authentic (and to be honest, I’m not sure it ever was meant to be). Currently, the biggest issues we face are how intertwined our lives are with social media and how the constant consumption of content posted by people we know promotes interpersonal comparison. I don’t think the majority of social media users are comparing themselves to celebrities like Kim Kardashian, wondering why they aren’t having a private island birthday party during a global pandemic. Instead, I think we tend to compare ourselves to those we are close to. It’s when we see people from high school going to Europe for the mid-sem break or when Becky from your STATS101 tutorial seems to be going out for dinner with friends every night that we start to question whether we do enough. Global Studies and Science conjoint student Anais who follows Instagram activists says, she often feels that “because what I do is less visible, I feel like it’s less worthy.”
Sure, BeReal probably captures more of what we’re doing but is that not crossing a line into our real lives? I don’t think people need to know that I went to the supermarket to get instant coffee at 5:38pm on Sunday. Social media and your lived experience should be separate entities that only cross over when you choose to share a part of your life with other people. Our experience of reality has become almost gamified. How interesting our surroundings, friends, or hobbies are is now a quantifiable concept. A picture of my desk won’t get much response but a photo of me at a party will—exploiting our dopamine the same way any game does. The more integrated into our lives these platforms are, the more control they have over us. The more our mood depends on the app, the more our opinions are formed directly by content pushed to us, and the more our experience of real life is shaped. Not very authentic, is it?
BeReal literally sends you a notification that “forces” you to come out of your lived experience and onto the app. I don’t want to go to a concert praying that my BeReal notification will go off the same way I don’t want to go and spend the whole time trying to get a photo to post. I just want to experience the show iN tHe MoMeNt. BeReal doesn’t help with this. BeReal, like most social media platforms, reinforces the “if there is no record of this moment, have I truly ~lived in it~?” mentality. Anais explains that she feels “Social media makes something seem real. It kind of like authenticates something… [It feels like] if it’s not on social media, then it’s not real.” BeReal aims to dissolve this type of deception. However, when you receive a BeReal notification, were you not already “being real” with what you were doing before? The app actively pulls you out of reality, asking you to showcase what will ultimately be a performative version of what you were already authentically doing.
In my opinion, it’s Instagram stories repackaged to appear more authentic. But what does that even mean? Sure, BeReal is a fun app, but as soon as your friend’s list exceeds your close circle, it just turns into Instagram. It won’t be long before Instagram adds it as a feature anyway. As a social media app gains more popularity, the more people join it, inevitably setting an impossibly high content standard. Some might argue that BeReal is less dangerous than Instagram because it doesn’t adhere to the same aesthetic and perfectionistic standards. However, I think it’s worse! BeReal creates its own standard that it claims to be an accurate picture of reality.
It’s performative authenticity on another level. The illusion that what you’re seeing on the app is truly your friends’ lives only amplifies the FOMO you feel when you aren’t doing the same. If someone knows they are doing something more interesting later on, they might delay their BeReal (with no algorithmic difference really). Sure, it shows that you posted late, but it still shows that you have a more interesting photo on that day. That won’t make someone who just posted a picture of their laptop feel particularly good. Even when a BeReal is taken on time, there is still a somewhat selective element. You can retake the photo as many times as you want within that two minutes. Erin, an Arts and Commerce conjoint student, comments:
“I was sitting there doing my BeReal yesterday and I was like trying to engineer the situation… I was scrolling through my phone doing Candy Crush or something when BeReal comes on and I’m like FUCK I gotta look like I’m doing something interesting. I opened up a spreadsheet, I picked up my cup of tea that I finished hours ago, and I [took the photo]”.
At least on Instagram, you’re generally aware that what you’re viewing is a highlight reel. A social media app that tries to convince you it’s anything other than that is dangerous. We need to acknowledge that it’s not just the platform that creates this pseudo-authenticity. Society encourages people who post to have an online persona. We have to be casual enough so that we don’t look like we’re trying too hard while also not appearing undesirable or boring. On any given platform, we will inevitably try to display our favourite version of ourselves.
I’m not trying to crush anyone’s fun here. There is no doubt that BeReal is an entertaining app, and we have to give it some credit for bringing a bit of authenticity back into social media. I just think that people should consider how even with so many features removed, BeReal still isn’t really as real it claims to be. BeReal’s mission neglects the fact that the most Real thing you can do is not engage with social media. Any time you try to turn your life into content, it won’t be truly authentic. As Christian Allaire from Vogue says, “If you want to BeReal, I suggest you GoOutside, LeaveYourPhoneBehind, and TakeAWalk.”