BeReal: An Authentic Performance Or A Performance Of Authenticity?

Megan Jones

‘BeReal’ is a popular social media app developed by Alexis Barreyat in 2020. This year has seen a huge rise in users of the app, leading many to debate whether or not the concept is successfully working towards the aims it intends to. Megan Jones discusses this controversy. 

“Oh God, BeReal”, “Omg, it’s BeReal!”

Have you ever heard these responses to the BeReal notification? Or said them yourself? The new(ish) app, which started in 2020 but gained popularity this year, supposedly promotes authenticity and realness between friends.

This seemingly difficult feat, in the landscape of today’s curated social media platforms, is tackled by an inability to filter or edit photos that the user is prompted to post within a 2-minute timeslot of a random push notification being sent to every user.

Does it add a new layer of pressure to perform authenticity – a paradox in itself – for the digital audience, or does it liberate users by promoting an unfiltered view of everyday life?

However, the notification is often met with a groan for those lounging in bed, or a smug smile, if it goes off while you are out doing something. But if the aim of the app is to post a snippet of your day despite how ‘un-Instagrammable’ it may be, why is there still a desire to be doing something noteworthy when the notification is sent? Does it add a new layer of pressure to perform authenticity – a paradox in itself – for the digital audience, or does it liberate users by promoting an unfiltered view of everyday life?

BeReal challenges the very question of the possibility of authenticity on social media. On the one hand, the lack of filter options, editing abilities and a 2-minute countdown pressure create a somewhat uncensored feed of selfies and back camera photos.

A thirty-second scroll of the Discovery feed, which shows the BeReals of users all over the world, gives the impression that there is a tendency for users to care less about posing for the shot. Photos of people eating their
breakfast, still wearing last night’s makeup, or going makeup free, are not uncommon. However, the user still holds a degree of control.

They can choose to take the photo outside of the two-minute countdown to wait until they are doing something more exciting with their day and even retake the photo before posting, if they don’t like how they look. Somewhat defeating the object of the app, some users ‘cheat’ and subsequently make their friends’ feeds more curated in doing so.

This sparks the question of whether it is even possible to be authentic online, or are all BeReal users simply performing authenticity, despite best intentions not to do so? The very notion of taking a photo ‘in the moment’ actually removes the user from living in the said moment; the content of BeReal is inherently “once removed” from reality.

So, is BeReal a less problematic social media platform than the likes of Instagram and Snapchat?

Arguably, yes. BeReal has created a space where it is okay to not put forward the best version of yourself; it is expected that you don’t look how you do on Instagram. But what happens when you are still in bed, and the rest of your feed is full of your friends doing something with their day? Do you feel FOMO? Or is there a comfort in knowing that you are fuelling the authenticity of the app and that everyone will post something similar at some stage?

Depending on the day, you might feel anything from lonely to smug as a result of how your BeReal compares with others. This element of comparison, while perhaps native to Instagram, inevitably migrates to BeReal, and therefore the app is not fully free from the toxicity of social media.

Users may also come into conflict with wanting to be authentic, but on their own terms. Frustration at the timing of the BeReal notification is rife on the #BeReal on TikTok. Numerous users have made videos of them waiting impatiently for the notification to go off while at famous landmarks, wanting to prove to the digital audience that they have been there. But is this not reminiscent of the phrase “If it didn’t happen on Instagram, it didn’t happen”?

And is that not the very sentiment that this ‘anti-Instagram’ app is trying to detoxify from? Similar frustration occurs when the timing of the notification is perfect too; a TikTok by @_caramcmanus shows the chaotic stress of a girl at a Harry Styles concert trying to load the app within the two minutes to capture the shot of Harry right in front of her. But in an attempt to perform for her own audience of friends on the app, she missed out on living in the moment.

In this way, users gain an insight into their friends’ everyday lives and can connect with those they don’t see often in a much more real way

There’s no doubt, however, that BeReal is far less curated than Instagram. In this way, users gain an insight into their friends’ everyday lives and can connect with those they don’t see often in a much more real way. It gives a similar feel to the private stories of Snapchat.

But, the synchronicity of the notification catches people off guard in a way that it creates a space online with far less expectations to be doing something worth ‘watching’. Generally speaking, people care less about their appearance on BeReal than other social media platforms and therefore the app offers an “industry tonic”, as Aimee Dawson from The ArtNewspaper puts it.

Because of this, the app provides a refreshing reminder that other social media platforms are used to perform a highly curated version of oneself and that what you consume on the likes of Instagram is not the full picture of said
person’s life.

In this way, BeReal grants users a ‘backstage’ pass into their friends’ lives and fosters a sense of unity as people realise that nobody lives a Pinterest-aesthetic life 24/7, despite what their Instagram profile or Snapchat story may suggest. That is not to say that creating a persona on other social media platforms is wrong, but having BeReal to shine a spotlight on the inauthenticity of other platforms such as Instagram, while also revealing the ‘real’ parts of your friends’ everyday lives is no bad thing.

Megan Jones

Featured image courtesy of George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com via Pexel. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

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