Opinion: It’s time to be real about BeReal

Lillian+Yao+and+Megan+Li+pose+for+a+late+BeReal+during+lunch.

Alice Lan

Lillian Yao and Megan Li pose for a late BeReal during lunch.

BeReal aims to be a preventative measure against toxic social media culture. Launched in 2020, its emphasis on authenticity gradually attracted millions of teens and young adults. Its popularity recently skyrocketed, becoming the world’s most-downloaded app in September 2022. 

However, the quest to “be real” on social media is fundamentally flawed, and performative authenticity can be just as toxic as the problems it attempts to resolve. 

Many applaud BeReal for breaking down social media’s fixation on perfectionism. As described in its app store description, “BeReal is life, Real life, and this life is without filters.” By taking away the ability to edit photos and asking users to present themselves as they are in that moment, BeReal aims to avoid fakeness and embrace the mundane aspects of life not shown on other social platforms.

The app’s rules are simple: once a day, users have a two-minute window to take two simultaneous photos— a selfie and a back-camera shot. All users receive a push notification at the same time, and the idea is for everyone to post at once to see what others are doing at the moment. The app marks late posts and retakes, and others’ posts are only visible after uploading your own. 

Not everyone follows the rules though. There is no penalty for being late, and many people do not post immediately after receiving the notification.

“If there’s something going on later in the day, sometimes I would think, ‘Oh, that would be a good BeReal,’ so if I remember to, I wait to post,” said junior Carsyn Ubamos. 

Even if the photos are unfiltered, nothing prevents users from dressing nicely, putting on makeup, or waiting for an exciting event before posting. Though the app claims there are no ways of cheating, closing out of the app before posting a photo resets the timer and amount of retakes. 

These features make it more than easy to curate a facade on BeReal, just like any other social media platform. Without the urgency of posting on time, the app loses its uniqueness and becomes hardly different from Snapchat or a private Instagram account.

Yet posting immediately is also a contradiction to the principle of being in the moment. Not everyone is on their phone when the notification goes off. Following the rules of BeReal would mean users must constantly pay attention to their phones, drawing them away from being present with their surroundings in order to snap a timely photo. 

“I feel kind of let down in a way when I see my friends doing fun things, and I’m just at home,” Ubamos said. “It makes me feel like I should also be going out or something.”

BeReal has a fundamental issue: instead of making people more comfortable posting their normal lives, it generates a need to constantly be interesting and creates a sense of fear of missing out.

Consciously or not, people always compare themselves to others. Curating an image for others to perceive is a part of human nature, and the desire to be interesting is not a crime. Social media has always been a space where people pick and choose parts of themselves to share with others, and BeReal is no exception.