Is it impossible to be ‘truly authentic’ when everything you post is through a curated lens?
A question of authenticity is intrinsically interwoven with the existence of social media. You could argue that sharing platforms - Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat - are purely performative and that it is impossible to be ‘truly authentic’ when everything you post is through a curated lens.
The app BeReal wants to change this. Marketed as the ‘authentic’ social media platform, it offers users the chance to share two photos (simultaneously taken from the front and back camera) a day with the world. As it profoundly shares in its App Store description, “BeReal is your chance to show your friends who you really are, for once”. But is it really?
The app is accompanied by rules. You get an alert every day that it’s “BeReal time!” and have a two-minute slot to take a photo and upload it to the platform. Only you don’t because you can post as late as you want up until the next day’s spontaneous posting time. The app’s developers have gone to lengths to encourage (yet not enforce) authenticity. It shows how many retakes users have had, there’s no filters available to use, and because you’re dual-posting from the front and back cameras, it’s harder to capture anything other than ‘reality’.
It’s an interesting and very popular concept. The boom in users over the past couple of months has caused the app to glitch somewhat, and users complain about how laggy it is. As you can’t predict when the app’s daily notification will drop, you get a glimpse into your mates’ ‘real’ day-to-day lives. My friends complain when the BeReal notification comes after they’ve done something fun or been out. “I was just at the pub! Can’t they have sent it then?” But the app is trying to capture mundane, daily realities. It’s intentionally tricky to curate the content you’re putting out on the platform.
Without adverts or influencers - BeReal asserts that you can’t get famous on the app - the posts you see are just shared by people you know in real life. It’ll be interesting to see if, or when, the novelty for BeReal will fizzle out. The app thrives on people contributing to the platform - as users drop off, others will follow exponentially. If the incentive to post is to see your mates’ posts (you ‘unlock’ their BeReals after you share yours), then it relies on a continued proportion of your friends to continue using the app.
Is authenticity important?
You could question whether there’s any value in having authenticity online or if it’s even possible to achieve. Ultimately, getting a daily peek into other people’s lives - even just a photo a day - can work wonders in connecting people who may otherwise struggle to talk together frequently. One BeReal user appreciated how, “even though you can manipulate the timing so that you broadcast the most eventful moment in your day, that slightly superficial insight is still fun and makes you feel closer to people you might not ordinarily see every day.” Even if BeReal isn’t wholly authentic, as another user puts it, “it’s just nice to see people’s faces every day”.
It’s okay to keep elements of your life private and off social media. BeReal is fun, but it’s never going to achieve true authenticity - unless it descends into morally-questionable surveillance. I doubt few will sign up to an app which shamelessly broadcasts your activities, reminiscent of the SeeChange technology described in Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle.
It strikes a good balance between a lack of performance and restricted control over the content you post. Coupling this with a lack of ads, it’s flourishing: a 4.8-star rating on the App Store, despite the glitchy complaints, and standing, at the time of writing, as #4 in Social Networking. BeReal allows users a - albeit curated - glimpse into their social circle’s activities each day, and it’s fine that it’s not completely authentic because it still serves a valid purpose: social connectivity and fun. Being more ‘real’ contributes to the app’s success, but 100% authenticity isn’t crucial for any social media.