Social media invites us to share our lives with friends. Back in February 2004, which Facebook launched, that seemed like a good and innocent thing. And it still can be for many users.
But there’s a dark side, too, one that’s emerged in the nearly two decades since social media’s inception. Some users like to share candid, unfiltered, authentic pics and posts. But for others, social media has become a world where you post the best, most-idealized version of yourself and your life. You might shoot a dozen selfies—or a hundred—to get that one perfect pose. Filters then further smooth out rough edges and light your portraits just right. And whenever you buy something cool, go somewhere cool or do something cool, well, you certainly don’t want to miss the opportunity to let all your followers know that you’re living your best life, right?
“Yeah, just another day whale watching in Hawaii,” we might humble brag. “We only saw 16 today—oh, plus the family of dolphins we snorkled with, LOL.”
“Just got a promotion … and a new BMW! #blessed!”
“My son just got accepted to Harvard! Don’t know where he got the brains to do that!”
I’ll stop. You know when others do it. And when you do it, too. Because it’s hard not to brag just a little bit when life is awesome. Or, when it appears to be awesome.
The problem, especially for teens and tweens on social media, is that all those idealized images and experiences—even though they know that they’re not always quite real—naturally invite comparison. My life isn’t as exciting, they might think. (A response, I should add, that’s not limited to adolescents.) I don’t look as good as she does. Or, My family doesn’t have the money to take a vacation like that. Or, I didn’t even know he liked BMWs. And in those moments, teens (and we parents, too), can feel as if our lives don’t measure up to the curated perfection on someone else’s Instagram feed.
That’s where the new app BeReal comes in.
As its name suggests, this increasingly popular social media app tries to solve some of those problems in a clever, kind of ingenious way. Once a day, it prompts users to stop what they’re doing and take a selfie wherever they are. Then, it shares those pictures with friends you’ve chosen to be in your BeReal network.
The intent of the app is to combat that temptation to post “best life now” pics of yourself. Instead, it’s spontaneous, candid and impromptu (though I’m sure that those who dive deep into this one will get better at looking their best, fast).
Building on the app’s authenticity-oriented brand proposition, there aren’t any filters, either. So users can’t doctor an image to make it look better than it really is. Nor are there any follower counts or hashtag links to other content–still more intentional “non-features” intended to de-emphasize influencer culture on the app.
Because it’s just a once-a-day snapshot of yourself and friends, BeReal should theoretically undermine the tendency promoted by Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to scroll endlessly. (That said, you can scroll through the app’s public feed if you’d like, so that problem is only partially mitigated.)
Finally, the app doesn’t promote daily usage streaks, either. And if you miss your prompting window, you can still post a pic, though you won’t have the instant connection with everyone else doing so at that exact same moment. That constitutes the only place where FOMO—fear of missing out—might really come into play here.
So, is this the perfect social media app? Well, there are still a few potential pitfalls to take note of.
As with all social media, the ability to befriend strangers is still there. Though BeReal is restricted to those 13 years and older, and though inappropriate and explicit pictures are technically prohibited by terms of service, the app relies on users reporting such content in order for it to be removed. And while the app’s once-a-day premise solves some FOMO problems, it may still cause anxiety about missing your BeReal window for others, which might prompt them to keep their phones even closer. Finally, geolocation is present, too, which is another issue when it comes to interacting with BeReal users that a user doesn’t actually know.
BeReal, then, addresses some of the significant concerns about how social media potentially harms users, especially young users. As with all such apps, though, parental engagement and intentionality remain the best strategies to ensure that young users can enjoy BeReal’s benefits without being knocked off course by some of the vulnerabilities that still exist with it.