It’s no secret that the highly organized world of Instagram takes a toll on people mentally and emotionally. A Facebook study published in September 2021 found that 32% of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse, according to CNBC. Yet, while most of us know the downsides of social media, we’re not ready to give up connecting with friends and keeping tabs on other people’s lives.
This is where the BeReal photo sharing app comes in. Launched in 2020 by French entrepreneur Alexis Barreyat, it presents itself as “the first uncontrollable social media” and aims above all to create an authentic environment. Although not entirely new, BeReal is starting to gain momentum: it started to become popular among students in early 2022, and it’s now the #1 free app on the charts Apple AppStore. It has also been downloaded over a million times from the Google Play store. Between the two platforms, he amassed nearly 130,000 reviews singing his praises.
But is BeReal enough to change the way we share and consume photos online? And, um, how do you use it in the first place?
What is the BeReal app?
BeReal (currently available for iPhone and Android) sends you a push notification saying “Time to BeReal” at a different time each day. You have two minutes to take a photo and upload it for your friends to see – no filters, no editing, no time to create the perfect shot. The idea? To show a glimpse of your real daily life rather than your highlight reel.
The app feels like the early days of Instagram or Snapchat, but with a deadline element, and there’s something touching about everyone with the app stopping to take a picture at the same time . It’s refreshing to see blurry photos, dirty dishes and awkward selfies.
Since all users are prompted to upload a photo at the same time, BeReal would have been likely to crash at that exact moment, according to AdAge. Or, as a twitter user put it: “It’s time to ⚠️Spend the next 10 minutes trying to pick up your BeReal but the app won’t let you⚠️.” True to its brand, BeReal tweets occasionally to notify users when servers are down, saying, for example, “BeReal is down so you can spend more time with your friends in the real world.
Even with the glitches, it seems people still love it. “THIS APP BREAK DOWN BARRIERS!” user AndresitoFelix wrote in a review on the Apple App Store. “You begin to realize that these posts from other users and friends, including your own, are very different from what is usually [seen] on other social media apps. You can’t post something planned it’s random and it’s real. It gives you a real insight [into people’s] Lives. It is definitely worth trying.”
Image source: Apple App Store, BeReal
How does BeReal work?
When BeReal sends you the notification, you have two minutes from the time you open the app to take your photo and upload it (publicly or just for your friends to see).
When you take a photo, BeReal automatically takes a photo with the front camera, which appears as a small selfie inside your main photo. (You can also swap them out so your selfie is the main image.) It’s hard to take a decent photo with both your front camera and your regular camera at the same time, which is presumably part of the unfiltered energy – even if BeReal catches you at a good time, it could still result in a bad shot. Either way, you have to share yourself and your environment right now. You can’t see other people’s daily content until you post your own, which forces you to engage rather than just hide on the platform. Like what does a friend do? You can respond to people’s messages with “RealMojis” – variations of selfies you’ve posted with the app.
There’s a ‘Discover’ page, so you can see what people are up to besides your friends – although it does seem a bit odd to peek into the daily lives of strangers. It lacks the aesthetic, inspirational feel of Instagram — which is, of course, the point — but it also makes following people you don’t know a little scarier than on other social platforms.
How often can you post on BeReal?
You only have one opportunity per day to share something on BeReal, and the notification prompting you to take a photo appears at a different time each day. Although the idea is to be forced to publish in the moment – whatever mundane activity you find yourself in – you do have the option to post a late BeReal if you miss the initial ping (it will just be labeled “[X] hours late”, so people know you didn’t take it right away). Twitter users pointed out, “recording” your daily BeReal message for a time when you’re, say, actually in the shower and doing something interesting defeats the purpose of the app – and if you do you may be ashamed of it.
What does the future of BeReal look like?
It’s unclear whether BeReal will take over in the same way as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat – or if it will rise and burn like Vine. Its intention is encouraging: a social media platform where we are validated by the normality of other people’s lives. But so many platforms start from humble beginnings and with a simple mission, only for the pressure to monetize and compete to distort the mood.
Even if it takes off, how long will BeReal stay, well, real?