Opinion: Can you really be real on BeReal?

Social media first started as a way to connect with people and share aspects of everyday life with friends. Most of Generation Z probably remember the days when our Instagram feeds were filled with duck-face selfies and restaurant food from regular users and celebrities alike.

Now, it feels as though every post on Instagram requires a carefully curated photo or series of photos where people, especially women, consistently appear attractive and jovial to the common viewer.

The French app, BeReal was launched in 2020 as a way to combat the artificial content that has taken over social media apps such as Instagram. The app sends everyone in a given area a notification at the exact same time. The users are then given two minutes to take a photo of themselves and what they are doing at that moment, and the photo is then posted on the app for others to see. 

According to Time Magazine, BeReal downloads have skyrocketed in the last couple months, and there are several reasons as to why that might be happening now. 

“Part of it could be people getting back to life, and wanting something new and something different,” said Jacqueline Kuehl, executive director of the digital marketing program at DePaul.

As pandemic restrictions continue to be lifted, people have been spending less time at home in their pajamas and more time socializing. 

“During the pandemic, we weren’t really going anywhere [or] doing anything,” Kuehl said. “I think that now, as people are moving and doing things and getting dressed up again and doing their hair… even though that’s not the goal, I think people might feel more comfortable about all that.”

In theory, the app should show people’s authentic lives, since the notification to post on BeReal pops up at a different time every day so the users have no time to prepare. In practice, however, this might not be the case. The two minute window given to users is not the only time they are allowed to post. Users can post their BeReal hours after the notification is sent out. 

“I think, for sure, that’s how BeReal started, to show that transparency,” Kuehl said. “With anything, people are going to find ways around it.” 

Even on an app like BeReal, many users try to craft their posts to some extent.

“I do post what I am doing in those two minutes, but I sometimes really hate the angles, like how my face looks or something like that, so I do take them a couple times,” said DePaul freshman Fajar Malik.

Many people, like myself, do not post in the two minutes the app allots at all, and instead wait until they are doing something interesting to post. 

“I knew a lot of people who had BeReal who would wait until they knew they were doing something important in the day to wait on it to post,” said Alexandra Murphy, a DePaul journalism student.

The feature where users are allowed to post whenever they like completely takes away from the app’s original goal: to authentically post what the user is doing at the moment of the BeReal notification. 

“Taking away that option to post later would push people more to actually post themselves in their most normal state,” Malik said. 

Influencers are a large part of social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok, and have faced criticism for their unrealistic portrayal of their looks and their lives. Celebrities like the Kardashians have been exposed numerous times for heavily altering their bodies in photos into something so unrealistic that not even plastic surgery can replicate it. 

“Even in that two minute span, I’ve seen people clean up and tidy up and make themselves look better, so for influencers to do it is basically on their fingertips,” Malik said.

Kuehl believes it may be a little more difficult to falsify posts on BeReal than it is on other social media platforms. 

“If someone is not themselves on BeReal… and changing how they look on BeReal, and they get caught, there’s going to be a backlash,” Kuehl said.

People who post on social media tend to glamorize their lives, only posting the best pictures and the best moments. This likely contributes to the usability of the platform, since it is easier to spend more time on an app with better content.

“I think the reason we’re sort of in this weird sort of dynamic where we want to post the best moments of our lives on social media is because it’s fun to see others do the same as well,” Malik said.

Other social media apps are seeing the potential BeReal has and attempting to emulate aspects of the app. TikTok has launched TikTok Now, which has the exact same concept as BeReal, except the users have three minutes to take their photo instead of two.

BeReal was a much more interesting app in theory than in reality. The main purpose of social media is to entertain, and while it is fun to scroll through and see what your friends are up to every now and then, the traditional, “fake” social media apps are here to stay.

Connect with Ruchi Nawathe: @ruchinawathe | [email protected]