BeReal proves social media authenticity is impossible, and that’s okay

Illustration by Nicole Hodge

Kofi Mframa, Contributing Writer

To understand Generation Z’s relationship with social media is to understand living under an intangible force that permeates every facet of our lives.

From the inception of social media, users have been struggling to find out how much is too much to share online. In fear of cyberbullying, stalking or online embarrassment, users protected their personal information from early sites like Facebook, MySpace and Tumblr. But the prize of possible virality and internet notoriety has enticed us to share more and more of ourselves. 

Take Youtuber Emma Chamberlain’s early vlogs in 2017; she took us with her as she made cupcakes, pulled all-nighters and performed everyday tasks in entertaining ways. While this oversharing was branded as authentic, I don’t find anything raw about filming every aspect of your life with the intent of producing content that will be consumed by millions.

Now, with the new social media app BeReal, we have yet another way of milking content out of the mundane moments in our lives, all in the name of authenticity. The amount of doctored content online makes us crave something more real, but this app provides a false sense of honesty.

BeReal is a social platform where “everyday at a different time everyone is notified simultaneously to capture and share a photo in 2 minutes,” according to its website. Its slogan “Your Friends for Real” would have you believe this app finally allows users to see what their friends are up to at a given moment. It’s a supposed departure from the contrivedness of Instagram and Facebook, which has made it extremely popular. 

However, its misuse is commonplace. Folks are taking BeReals hours after the original notification, staging BeReals with their friends and having strangers take the BeReal for them as they pose for the camera.

The app’s intended purpose — to authentically capture what users are doing in the moment — has been forgotten as the app becomes yet another extension of performance on social media.

I am guilty of misusing the app myself. There was one instance in which the notification went out early in the morning but I knew I was going to go out to eat with a friend later, so I waited until then to take the BeReal. Why did I feel the need to perform on BeReal the same way I would on Instagram or any other social media? Is BeReal just becoming another, more spontaneous Instagram?

Instagram was, and still is, the peak of performance on social media. On this app, we edit photos and apply filters to have an aesthetic feed, broadcast pictures with friends to prove we’re sociable and post thirst traps to prove our beauty. 

It wasn’t until recently that influencers like Chamberlain propagated the idea of a casual Instagram by posting filterless, off-guard photos. But as this trend grew, people began to lose focus of the original intention, staging informal photos to the point where having a casual Instagram was just as laborious as having a regular one.

One would think the creation of a casual and more authentic Instagram would lay the foundation for an app like BeReal. Instead, users operate on BeReal like they would on a more traditional Instagram. It seems as though any attempt at authenticity online will always seem manufactured. 

Despite its almost universal misuse, the app is still wildly popular — so much so that TikTok is biting off BeReal’s open hand, creating TikTok Now, an almost identical version of BeReal from layout to function. 

Even though the BeReal is far removed from its original intention, its premise is still fun. I like the spontaneity of the notification, and as someone who’s chronically nosy, I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to.

There is no way to be truly authentic online, and that’s okay. We should understand social media for what it is: a way to express ourselves and connect with others — even if those connections aren’t always authentic.

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