On Being Real

🚨You’ve received a notification: “It’s time to BeReal!”🚨

What does this mean, you may ask? Well, “BeReal” is a new “anti-social media” social media platform that has recently gained popularity amongst college kids. The app sends all users a daily alert at different times each day that it’s “time to BeReal!” In other words, it’s time for users to take a photo of what they’re doing as well as an accompanying selfie. Both photos are posted to their feed and in order to scroll through other friends’ feeds, you have to post within 2 minutes of receiving the “BeReal” notification. Like most forms of social media, the app includes a friend feed, a discovery page, location sharing, and comment sections. It also includes “realmoji” reactions and a personal memories section.

The Startups Reinventing Social Media - by Rex Woodbury

I hadn’t heard about this app until a few weeks ago when I listened to a presentation given by Vanderbilt “BeReal” brand ambassadors. The utter irony throughout the whole presentation was astounding to me.

The above screenshot epitomizes this irony. BeReal markets itself as “not another social network” yet is ranked #16 in Social Networking. Perplexing.

“BeReal” separates itself from other social media platforms by branding itself as an un-curated, wholesome, genuine way to virtually share and connect. In the presentation, I learned that “BeReal” apparently stands for: “authenticity, real connection, real interactions, confidence, and kindness.” Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t great pillars. They are. But the app is not doing anything to genuinely promote these things. If the creators of the app wanted people to be authentic, confident, and kind while creating real connections and real interactions, they wouldn’t create yet another social media app. 

According to a 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, teenagers and children spend between five to seven and a half hours a day on social media. Social media has a multitude of negative effects on teens, a few being: it is a major distraction, it can disrupt sleep (which in turn has immense physical and mental consequences) it exposes people to bullying and rumor-spreading, and it creates unrealistic, unachievable views of other people’s lives and one’s own life (which leads to overall dissatisfaction.) Additionally, social media is linked to causing anxiety, depression, and other well-being issues. Even the creators of BeReal acknowledge the dangers of social media:

The last two paragraphs state:

“We’re addicted to this second world, an alternative reality which promotes stress, anxiety, bullying and ultimately makes us feel even lonelier than before…With our phones glued to our hands, we’re unlikely to put them down. So how can we stay connected in a way that actually makes us happy?”

Do teenagers really need yet another social media platform? Even if that platform is supposedly intending to do good? This app is not going to help teenagers put their phones down and enjoy their real lives. 

Further, with a slogan like: “Your friends. For real.”, the app totally negates human-to-human interaction and instead places the value on having digital, virtual, online friends.

As much of an avid BeReal hater as I am, I will say that some of their goals are perfectly decent. It’s respectable to want to create an app that is less filtered than the typical social media platforms. Showing off an un-curated life and viewing others’ day-to-day life rather than their highlight reels sounds like a good idea. 

Where I see the problem is simply that the answer to the issues created by filtered, curated social media is not another social media app. Instead, I think the solution is a movement away from promoting “real life” as one that solely exists online. BeReal’s acknowledgment that the filtered nature of typical social media is harmful is an important step towards ameliorating some of the issues relating to social media. However, in order to further limit the damaging effect of social media on teenagers, additional steps are necessary. These steps could potentially occur at national, individual-platform, or personal levels.

In terms of change at a national level, although, it is difficult to regulate privately-owned social media companies, the government still has a say. For instance, Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified before a Senate subcommittee about how harmful Facebook is, particularly on teenage girls. Haugen’s plea for lawmakers to examine Facebook’s algorithms is an example of potential social media policy at the national level. “Other legislative responses could include passing a national privacy law and strengthening safeguards for children online, two measures that have been long-debated among Washington lawmakers” (Allyn 2021). 

As for platforms themselves, social media companies have the choice to make change. For instance, in September of 2021, TikTok announced new resources to “support [the] community’s well-being.” Some of these features include general well-being resources, an expanded guide on eating disorders, the promotion of local support resources, and warning labels for sensitive content. Additionally, media platforms could work towards advising people to limit their time spent on social media. iPhone has a feature in settings that allows you to set a screen limit time for specific apps. Perhaps, individual social media platforms can work towards something similar? 

In terms of this particular issue, I believe that the greatest potential for change comes on a personal level. Using social media is a decision. We can make the decision to use it in a way that ends up being harmful, to not use it at all, or (what’s best in my personal opinion,) to use it in a healthy, beneficial way. Individual parents and teachers play a role in teaching children about the potential drawbacks of using social media so that kids can learn how to use social media in a positive way. 

When the next “BeReal” notification pops up on your phone, you may want to think twice before stopping what you are doing in real life to take a photo.

6 thoughts on “On Being Real

  1. Hi Rachel, I think that you raised some excellent points on the nature of BeReal as a new social media platform. However, while I can absolutely see where your opinion comes from, I personally don’t hold the same views about this platform. I love BeReal as a social media (even though they try to market themselves as something else), because I think that it eliminates aspects like influencers, algorithms, and endless streams of content that I think make so many other social media platforms more toxic. With BeReal, nobody can see how many followers/likes you have, your pictures are only available to your friends (and only for about 24 hours before disappearing), and at least for the way that I use this app, there is no expectation to be portraying any type of glamorized version of your life. Additionally, since the only content to consume is the one photo per friend, I don’t think that it’s even possible to get sucked into spending hours scrolling through this app. I can’t imagine spending more than 5 minutes a day on BeReal, but those 5 minutes are a great way to feel connected to people that I don’t see everyday. I view it as sort of the opposite of a highlight reel. Since the post notification comes at random times of day, you’re forced to live your life without social media in the back of your mind. This contrasts to other photo-sharing social media platforms like Instagram, where you’re more expected to share your post-worthy highlights rather than simply what you’re doing in the moment (for example, my BeReal yesterday was me walking back from class — something that I probably wouldn’t post on any other social media platform). Our views of BeReal aside, I think that the solutions you have suggested for restructuring the way that we use social media in order to lessen the negative effects that come from it are great and very feasible ideas!

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    1. I like this analysis because it highlights the way that traditional social media encourages one to display a false representation of their life. Rather than taking a photograph at a random time that does not shy away from an unglamorous reality, normal social media allows people to only show a curated portion of their life. The tendency of social media accounts to only show the best of someone’s life based on curated content further forces the addictive nature of viewing such media, where the user is actively comparing themselves to others.

      However, I think that BeReal still fails to fix the underlying issue with social media, which is feeling the need to broadcast one’s life. While it is a step in the right direction with BeReal to be in the moment and not fake anything, I think that the common denominator of having to post what one is doing rather than not at all is at the heart of this issue. Without fixing this root reflex, the issue of comparison mentioned previously cannot be fixed.

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  2. Personally, I don’t use BeReal, but based on your description of it and Sarah’s comment on it, it seems like a way less toxic place than other social media sites. Like you said, social media is a big factor in our lives; that’s not gonna change anytime soon. But, why not have a social media platform that encourages people to put their unfiltered lives out there? I mean, even your assumption about BeReal distracting people from “living” is influenced by the idea (a view likely tied into expectations garnered from viewing people’s highlights online) that most people are really out here constantly living their best lives. That being said, I totally get where you’re coming from regarding BeReal. Personally, social media is both a negative and positive presence in my life and it requires a great amount of restraint to keep it more positive than negative. It’s hard for me to believe that BeReal will fix social media, but it’s nice to dream of improvements.

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  3. Hi Rachel, I really enjoyed reading your blog post! Personally, I don’t use BeReal but a lot of my friends do and compared to most other social media platforms, I think BeReal does have a rather unique concept. The more uncurated nature of the platform for starters really sets this apart from other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, where users don’t really intend to capture their real lives – but through a lens showing only the more ‘interesting’ parts. BeReal has the opportunity to be more authentic and intimate since people post pictures of what they are doing at the moment. This platform has less potential to have the harmful effects of social media in regards to issues like body image due to the more casual nature of the app. I have scrolled through the feeds of my friend’s BeReal’s and more often than not the posts are simply people doing their homework, or eating food. While Instagram posts are most often of people’s vacations and parties, BeReal seems to capture the more mundane aspects of people’s lives. While I agree with the irony of ‘being real’ on social media takes away from actual reality, I don’t think the drawbacks of most social media can be enhanced by BeReal. We live in a more digital world, where an online presence is almost necessary to function in society and I think BeReal is an interesting way to create a less toxic environment for people to share their lives with their friends.

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  4. Hi Rachel! I enjoyed reading this blog. As someone who is an avid user of BeReal, I can attest to some of the issues you have raised about the platform. While I am a fan of the app because it allows me to connect with my close friends in a somewhat silly, less filtered, way, I agree with your point that the stated purpose of the app is full of contradictions. One thing I have noticed which goes to your point is, although the app is less curated than Instagram, there still is an element of showcasing the “highlights” of your life, creating similar unrealistic expectations. When the BeReal notification goes off, I find myself and my friends rushing to fix our appearance and quickly take a shot that makes whatever we are currently doing look fun, interesting, or aesthetic, defeating the idea of “being real.” Additionally, the app allows you to post a “late” BeReal if you don’t immediately respond to the notification. Many users simply choose to wait until they are doing something they want to highlight to post. This can cause the app to be very misleading because a user is expecting to see snapshots of their friend’s day-to-day life, but then they only see moments other users choose to share. This can cause the unrealistic expectations of life you mentioned in your article. Not to mention how hurtful it could be to see the BeReal notification go off and see pictures flood your feed of friends hanging out or having fun if you are alone.

    I like how you incorporated potential steps to improve social media’s impacts. One policy I would suggest is to require disclosure of manipulated pictures. Norway recently created a law that makes social media influencers legally obligated to flag edited pictures. While this is a small step in the right direction riddled with enforcement issues, policies like these can do lots for the unrealistic expectations created by social media, especially when it comes to body image. I would love to see a social media platform create similar guidelines for its users.

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  5. I agree with your point that be real can be another toxic platform. It will arise the same problem that any other social media has. People will feel left out when they see pictures of others hanging out with other people while they don’t. The reason why social media is so harmful to students is that it’s a new form of communication that students don’t learn how to deal with. With social media, there needs to be some part to be ignored rather than accepting it as blatantly true. Also I don’t use snap chat but I felt that it was similar to be real. one problem that I noticed from snap chat was that students tried to have ‘ streak’ with other people. I was wondering if be real had a similar function too.
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