What does it mean to #BeReal? A look at authenticity on social media

By Liv Barry

Lifestyle Editor

Since returning to campus, students have likely been in a room — a classroom, the dining hall, or even The Elm’s own publication house — and witnessed dozens of peers simultaneously pick up their phone to take a daily snapshot. Usually, this ritual is accompanied by someone shouting “It’s time to BeReal,” before everyone scrambles to join social media’s latest quest for authenticity.

 If you are on the Internet in any capacity, you have likely heard of the newest App Store sensation BeReal.

Currently the number one social media application on the App Store, BeReal is an “anti-social media app” where users are given a random, two-minute window every day to take two photos, one from the front-facing camera, and one from the back.

The idea is to capture the user in their natural state; typical posts include photos of users working on their laptops, propped up in bed, or eating. If you are lucky, your daily notification might just go off at the most exciting point of your day.

Some users even wait to post their daily photos until they’re doing something more exciting. The catch? BeReal will let other users know if you waited to post late, or if you took your photo multiple times. Also, users are barred from seeing daily posts from their friends until they post for the day.

In a virtual landscape where users are rewarded for curating their own brand, BeReal encourages users to be genuine, but many have already written off the app as a fluke that does little to promote authenticity.

“In the end, BeReal is unlikely to deracinate the social media culture of self-presentation, where production of the self is, as Alison Hearn put it, ‘purposeful and outer directed.’ But at least it allows us to feign indifference in two-minute increments,” said Wired’s Brooke Erin Duffy and Ysabel Gerrard.

While promoting authenticity, the photo-centric platform of BeReal innately allows for performance. Even if a user is taking their daily snapshot from bed, they will be compelled to pose, angling their face or body to look more attractive.

“When we are posting, we are, by definition, ‘performing.’ We’re pressing the ‘on’ button and gazing toward a camera. There are always going to be some performance components to that. It’s a fallacy: When we think something looks so natural, it never is,” said psychologist Joti Samra.

Despite these criticisms, BeReal is still wildly popular. Some suggest that these “authentic” trends harken back to the earnestness of early social media.

The app encourages users to showcase their day, no matter how boring it may be. In a social media climate where it is easy to scroll past a post if it does not immediately catch our eyes, this investment in someone’s day-to-day life can seem refreshing.

Users are also able to see posts chronologically, a feature that has slowly been phased out of apps like Twitter and Instagram in favor of algorithmic content. Without any advertisements or short-form videos randomly squished between posts, users are able to focus on checking in on their friends.

While social media might never allow for authenticity, the app does mark a return to form for social media. BeReal’s massive popularity could just be a flash in the pan, but it could also signify that the tide is turning back towards non-algorithmic content of yore.

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons

Photo caption: BeReal pushed Facebook off of its long-running pedestal as the #1 free social media application on the Apple App Store. According to businessofapps.com, BeReal has just under 3 million daily users.

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