This past weekend I was organising my Story highlights on Instagram because I realised I hadn’t updated them in months. I stumbled across some content that made me feel so nostalgic despite it being captured only 6 to 7 months ago. It was a screenshot of a BeReal…
BeReal, a French photo-sharing app founded in 2020 that took off on college campuses, prompts users at a different time each day to take shots with their front and rear phone cameras. The app billed itself as an alternative to the artifice of social media: If Instagram had become a catalogue of cosmetic enhancements and painstakingly arranged tableaus, BeReal’s feed full of limp salads, messy apartments and unflattering selfies appeared an attractive refuge. By July, BeReal had soared to the top of the iPhone app store.
From about April to September of last year, BeReal really was the moment. But there’s only so many WFH selfies we can handle…
Night Noroña, 17, a high school student in Redding, California agrees with me. He downloaded the app in August and liked seeing that his friends’ lives were less glamorous than the highlight reels they posted to Instagram suggested, he said. But after a few months, he tired of scrolling through nearly identical pictures of their laptop screens and deleted the app. Most of his friends no longer use it either, he said; “Gen Z hops on trains really fast, but they hop off even faster.”
The app’s monthly downloads have been slipping since September, according to data from Sensor Tower, a market intelligence firm. The number of people who use the app daily has dropped 61 percent from its peak, from about 15 million in October to less than six million in March, according to Apptopia, another analytics firm.
While not all users (or ex users) are as bored as I am, I’d say the general consensus of BeReal is best summed up by Oriana Riley, 20, a Stanford University student; “It’s something to do, but it’s not the thing to do anymore,” she said.
The longevity of its hyper lofi content could only go so far and risks becoming repetitive (as is the case). A solution would be to push different, more curated pictures but that defeats the purpose of the app. BeReal into the very platforms it was supposedly a reaction against. BeReal may alienate users if it becomes awash in the kind of highly produced content that influencers and advertisers typically post on Instagram and Facebook.
Arguably the hyper authentic ethos of the app doesn’t even exist in a pure form and cannot as it completely denotes the point of social media or the reason people choose to share. Oliver Haimson, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, calls this phenomenon the online authenticity paradox. We consider authenticity to be important, but often fall short of achieving it in our digital presences for very human reasons. For example, because we want to share exciting moments with others, or we care what our followers think of us.
I mean, it makes sense. Why record a moment you don’t care to forget?