Is BeReal fake news?
The ‘anti-influencer’ photo-sharing app promises to be the antithesis of Instagram’s inauthentic curation – but is it all just a filter?
Wednesday 15 June By Amelia Tait
The day before I upload a picture of an ordinary automatic door to the internet, I share 10 photos of a holiday up in the Sicilian hills. There are lemons glistening in a tree, a swimming pool sparkling under fairy lights and my mouth open in a big, wide, happy laugh. Those 10 pictures were posted on Instagram, an app that has spent a decade becoming synonymous with inauthenticity. My picture of an automatic door – stuck with illegible leaflets and labels, obscured by my reflection in a way that makes the whole photo look like a strange collage of overlapping shapes – was posted on BeReal.
BeReal is two-year-old social media app that exploded in popularity this spring – users have reportedly jumped 315% in the past few months alone. Its premise is as neat as its name: this is a place for people to post authentic photos of their daily lives. At a random time, every day the app tells users they have two minutes to share a snap of whatever they’re currently doing (or not doing, as is more often the case). On my first day on the app, I see a cousin’s GCSE maths revision and another relative’s legs stretched out on their bed. On the Discovery tab, where you can see what strangers are up to, there’s gravel underfoot; some kind of warehouse; a train carriage; laundry hung up to dry.
The more time I spend on the app, the more I realise that at any given time, there are so, so many legs on so, so many beds. If this all sounds a bit boring – that’s sort of the point. According to a spokesperson for BeReal’s founder, Alexis Barreyat, he was inspired to create the app because Instagram was ‘filled with ads and influencers and the perfect life of everyone’. BeReal, in contrast, is about our imperfect, boring, laundry-filled, legs-on-bed existence.
And I love the premise – it’s the kind of app I’ve idly imagined, the seeming anthesis to everything that’s wrong with social media culture (No follower counts. No ads. Plus, an insight into the plants in my relative’s bedrooms.). But BeReal’s major flaw is that the app itself also has to be – yep, you guessed it – real, meaning that like all apps, it clamours to keep users engaged. Consequently, it discards its entire revolutionary premise like an influencer chucking away an ice-cream after she’s got the shot: the two-minute window for posting is actually more of a wishy-washy guideline and users can and do post their photos late. ‘Be real – or not’, the app seems to be saying, ‘No need to pick up your phone when you’re cleaning out your ears; wait until you’re drinking shimmering cocktails.’
If it was allowed to thrive, the drudgery would actually be the best thing about the app – right now, it’s let down by gimmicks. BeReal prompts you to respond to people’s photos with a ‘RealMoji’, aka a small picture of yourself pulling a face. Nothing about that is authentic, real, or remotely desirable – it feels like an idea found on the Black Mirror cutting-room floor. In general, the app is far too focused on faces: when you take a photo of what you’re looking at, it simultaneously snaps you, meaning the top left corner of my automatic door is adorned with a big grimacing moon.
I quickly start covering the front-facing camera with my thumb, while I notice other users hide their faces with hoodies – ironically, then, the app has created a sure-fire shortcut to inauthenticity. Yet perhaps the biggest problem with BeReal is that actually, it’s rallying against something that no longer exists. Relative to the mid-2010s, social media isn’t all that inauthentic. The world’s most popular apps have become increasingly casual, as evidenced by the rise of Instagram photo dumps (those carousels of unrelated – and often unrelentingly dull – images) and extremely candid TikTok trends with titles such as: ‘What I eat in a day as a fat person’, or the pro-mess hashtag #Cluttercore.
I posted my automatic door picture because the app’s prompt made me panic; I took the snap there and then. In the coming days, I take far more curated (but far less boring) pics. It’s not remotely self-deprecating to say that my Friends gained absolutely nothing from seeing my photo of an obscure automatic door – in fact, it’s not even a stretch to say the picture actively made the world a worse place. My Sicilian lemons were no less real, and neither was my big, wide, happy laugh – but they, at least, were interesting.