Is BeReal Being Real?: Social Media and Authenticity
It’s time to BeReal. As a notification simultaneously pops up on screens across the world, people rush to pick up their phones and candidly capture their lives. BeReal, released in December 2019, describes itself as, “A new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.” The app has effectively catapulted a trend of perceived authenticity, leaving no room in the app for filters, edits, or pre-captured photos. When the notification drops at a random point during the day, users have two minutes to capture themselves and their environment through front and back-facing cameras. The app pushes users to really “be real” by ditching metrics such as likes in exchange for retake counts and time stamps that are public to friends. Despite diverging from how social media has been used in the past, BeReal has been a huge success in recent months, rising in popularity this year with a 315 percent increase in monthly users.
This trend has permeated the Tufts community, with students eager to post snapshots of their everyday lives. Compared to other social media apps, BeReal feels temporary. As soon as a post is published, the user has a keyhole view into the lives of their friends and community. Each post is only public on the app for a day before it is moved into a private memories section. Junior Sammy Walkey said, “Its temporary nature makes people a lot less pressured to care about how they look, and it’s more about being in the moment… It encapsulates everything I like about the way I use social media.” This characteristic of BeReal allows for a more transparent, personal experience online. Walkey mentioned she uses it as a way to share what she is doing with her friends and see what they are doing in return.
The app’s impermanence is also intended to produce a more genuine experience online. With a feed that resets every day, BeReal does not create pressure to curate one’s content, unlike many social media platforms. Sophomore Marlee Kitei does not feel this uncurated experience is attainable on platforms like Instagram. She said, “I wish I had more authenticity on my Instagram in particular. It’s hard to find a balance of being yourself, but also subconsciously wanting to present that best version of yourself.” As opposed to Instagram, BeReal was created with room for its users to be more like their real selves.
Psychology Department Chair Samuel Sommers agreed with the sentiment that BeReal allows for a new, more real experience on social media. He said, “We as psychologists, as behavioral scientists, like to study human behavior, and this idea [of BeReal] that you’re capturing [life] not at the times where people necessarily want to present themselves, but rather at randomly selected times throughout the day, is a clever idea.” Sommers explained he thinks the idea is clever because it diverges from typical social media usage. However, the app is still a social media platform on which users present themselves through content. Though the structure of BeReal may be different from other social media, it is still difficult to determine whether someone’s post is an accurate representation of their real life.
Junior Paige Duff feels BeReal strives to reach a level of genuineness, but may not be completely successful. She explained that though the idea of BeReal allows for authenticity, any social media on which one intentionally represents themselves through content cannot be fully authentic. Sommers said, “We know that when people get to choose how to depict themselves, they think about their self-presentational concerns.” It is nearly impossible to post online without considering how one looks or if what they are posting looks fun, so there is always a conscious evaluation of content before it is posted, removing the post’s realness. There are other aspects of BeReal that also take away from its capability to maintain authenticity, such as the ability to post after the notification is released or skip a day.
Although BeReal might not pressure users to edit photos or take several before choosing the best one, it creates pressure to subscribe to the “authentic” nature on which it has built its following. Senior Maeve McGean mentioned how BeReal has capitalized on the fact that this generation is constantly on their phones in order to push the idea of authenticity. In a written statement to the Tufts Observer, they said, “My major problem with BeReal is that the premise of the app assumes people are next to their phones 24/7. I think most young people recognize that that form of constant reachability is a problem, but what BeReal has done is make constant reachability trendy. In fact, it’s a social faux pas if you don’t complete your BeReal quickly.” In order to follow the trend of authenticity specific to BeReal, users have to post within two minutes of its notification; otherwise, one is not perceived as “being real.”
On the positive side, BeReal does allow for positive aspects of social media, such as bringing people together and allowing for self-expression. As Walkey mentioned, BeReal is a way to share what one is doing with friends. This aspect of BeReal is not exclusive to the app and can be fulfilled through other platforms as well. Instagram also has tools that make it more personal, such as private accounts or close friends’ stories. Kitei said, “I have a photo dump account for just close friends. That’s my favorite place to post… I think it’s just a great form of connection.” For students, BeReal has identified a hole in social media and filled it by combining aspects of other platforms, such as temporary stories on Instagram and Snapchat and close friends platforms to create a more intimate platform.
While BeReal has brought the question of authenticity to the surface, many still view social media in general as an inauthentic platform. Senior Kiara Mastropasqua, who had BeReal for a couple of months and then deleted it, said, “I think at times it can become super performative and almost competitive. When you are getting insight into people’s lives, it really is just what they want you to see and often it can feel very targeted.” Mastropasqua argued that on social media, it is impossible to avoid the curation of a persona, which fundamentally contradicts the idea of authenticity. McGean wrote that BeReal has made realness on social media a trend, but does not indicate a true desire for users to be fully candid through their content. “In an ideal world, I’d say that BeReal is evidence that people are sick and tired of fake, edited, and highly curated social media content,” McGean wrote. “If that were the case, however, people would stop using platforms like Instagram. But they haven’t.” It has become clear that even through efforts to be authentic on social media, all online interactions are purposeful, even on BeReal. Kitei said, “There’s been more than one time where I’ve waited to post my BeReal knowing I have a concert later, or something exciting I’m doing. I know it’s against the point of the app, but sometimes you just have that temptation.” Even if it is inadvertent, students are still curating everything that appears on social media.
Being aware of the purposefulness of sharing content is important when using social media to fully understand the impacts it has on users. Sommers said, “We know that concerns about self-presentation and how you present yourself to others are very important at various stages of life, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.” It is clear that the constant curation present on social media lends difficulties to presenting authentic content. Though Duff thinks social media can be authentic in “fleeting moments,” she ultimately acknowledges that social media includes active decisions to portray oneself in a curated manner. Mastropasqua also acknowledged this, saying, “when you’re posting on social media, you’re thinking about everything with an audience in mind.”