BeReal, a fresh face in the world of social media, basically describes itself as a simple and cute middle finger to all these Instagram filters. Yet the increasingly popular app is still filled with potential dangers.
As of October 2022, BeReal, started in 2020 by French cofounders Kevin Perreau and Alexis Barreyat, had been installed over 53 million times worldwide. The growth is astounding – in July the app had been downloaded only 20 million times, and soon enough Instagram started copying BeReal’s main features.
What are they? BeReal claims to be the “simplest photo sharing app to share once a day your real life in a photo with friends”. Users cannot use filters or edit the images that they’re able to post only once a day.
Some compare it to the popular Wordle game because its daily cycle promotes moderation of screen time instead of endless scrolling on Instagram or TikTok and constant worrying about the supposedly charming lives others are leading.
“I just joined recently, and I truly have less than 10 followers and they're all friends and family. No one is looking up to me as an influencer in how they should live their lives. They're just sharing with me how they live theirs, and it's so refreshing,” Danielle Russell, president of Builder Funnel, a marketing agency, told Cybernews.
BeReal prompts users to take one – unedited, of course – photo a day at a random time which changes daily. Notified users then have two minutes to take a photo and post it before it’s marked as “late”.
A dull house
The sense of togetherness is supposedly enhanced by the idea that you and all of your BeReal friends have to post a photo at the same time. However, you can still upload a picture even after the two-minute interval. It’s going to be marked as “late”, but it will still be there.
Still, the app uses both the front and back camera of the phone, creates a collage and shows followers what is happening in that exact moment of the day.
I decided to give BeReal a try this week, and the results so far are quite predictably boring – since I still have just a few friends on the app, I can only browse and see what other people are up to.
Some things are simply weird. I was, for instance, notified to post a shot of my life well after midnight when I was fast asleep and only saw the encouragement early in the morning. Other users have also been complaining of issues like this, and some have noticed their “memories” have been disappearing from the app.
Quite a few Berealtors on Reddit say they cannot comment on their friend’s photos, while yet another bunch is surprised to see numerous strangers in their feed.
Yet again, while peeking at other accounts, I saw the usual suspects in the background: an open-space layout of an office in Minneapolis, an early-morning traffic jam in Cologne, a dirty kebab joint in Leeds, an Irish lad waiting for a FIFA 23 online match to load.
Maybe people are not that unique – most of us get up, rush to work, have a bite to eat, socialize a bit if possible, chill at home and sleep. Deprived of the ability to meticulously select what you want to share with the world, we seem rather dull.
An alternative way to function online
Or just normal – people are probably less anxious about their lives when they do not constantly seek to take just the best picture or to be in just the right place.
Casey Newton, a writer for Platformer, didn’t mince words this summer when he expressed frustration with BeReal – he simply called the app bad and boring.
But that might actually attract new users. A journalist Ryan Broderick found the features of mass push notification and time limit healthy, and a content creator Jules Terpak predicted that scheduled and short mass online moments will become the new big thing on social media.
“BeReal has been well-received by young generations and older generations alike because of the spontaneity of it, and the desire to be completely authentic in the content on the app. By taking a picture with your front-camera and back-camera, you are decreasing the chances for posing fake scenarios and being inauthentic in your posts,” Troy Portillo, director of operations at Studypool, told Cybernews.
Olivia Drost, a Polish expert in the digital media industry and the owner of oLIVE media, a social media agency, reminded Cybernews that the campaigns from the late 1990s, introducing the new invention of Internet 1.0, highlighted that on the internet, everyone can be themselves.
“But each successive social media platform proved it was far from collective, democratic and authentic. The popularity of the BeReal app is largely due to the crises at Instagram, Facebook and other platforms of its kind. In the wave of recent controversies, users are looking for alternative ways to function in virtual reality, and are looking to this platform to deliver on its promises of authentic and spontaneous social media,” Drost said.
She hopes BeReal will make us rethink our relationship with social media and says the app is part of a larger trend of “returning to the dreams of early internet users, for whom the web was meant to be a window to the real world, untouched by filters”.
Yet Max Shak, a BeReal user and founder of SurvivalGearShack.com, a website producing outdoor hobby-related content, thinks that, to some extent, dumping photos in an anti-aesthetic way might actually seem quite aesthetically cool, especially to young people.
“As technology has developed, more and more people are looking for ways to capture content with lower fidelity. Additionally, this anti-aesthetic conversion promotes BeReal application software, and is likely to become mainstream in the near future,” Shak told Cybernews.
Aimee White, co-owner of Keyboard Kings, a website dedicated to all things keyboard and computer-related, noted that one of the most common criticisms of social media is that it encourages users to constantly document their lives and actually “live through their devices”. According to White, the image very often is a distorted one, and it’s not easy to stage your life on BeReal.
But the pitfalls are there. According to Portillo, younger users could feel pressure, depression, and isolation, by comparing themselves to their peer’s content and posts from their life, however authentic it is.
“Besides, we must ask, is it truly possible to be authentic on BeReal? It gives you the opportunity to post a photo late and an increasing number of teens wait until there are more ideal moments to post their photos. So it still is possible to curate your reality on BeReal,” Larz May, mental health advocate and Founder of HalfTheStory, a digital wellness non-profit, told Cybernews.
Drost adds that BeReal could be a major threat to young people in terms of app addiction and an even greater sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) due to the very mechanics of the platform - sending notifications that give you two minutes to publish content.
Internetmatters.org, a platform supporting parents and carers to navigate the complex digital landscape, sees quite a few benefits of BeReal, but also warns of potential pitfalls, especially for younger users.
For instance, apps such as BeReal can really encourage authenticity as you won’t be able to redact your daily moments that you choose to share. Besides, users can only post once a day, and that helps to control the amount of time spent on the app.
What’s more, only the user’s friends are able to comment on a photo, and users cannot contact others privately. This reduces the likelihood of abuse. There are no public follower counts, hashtags and other things that promote influencer culture.
However, some features can be problematic. For example, pictures are unmoderated: this means that users, while scrolling through the Discovery feed, may come across inappropriate content. RealMojis are also tricky in the same way.
There are also no parental controls and minimal privacy controls. And the nature of the app – the use of the front and back camera – means that people may be unaware they’re posting photos of something or someone that should not, or don’t want to, be online.
Some experts are also concerned about the fact that the images provide information about where the user is at a particular point in time. Even though the images are set to private by default, they are also geolocated by default.
Finally, younger users can receive friend requests from strangers who, if accepted, may start leaving unpleasant comments on photos. However, users can delete abusive “friends” very easily.
According to internetmatters.org, it’s important users report inappropriate content as often as possible, and if they’re underaged, parents or carers should regularly check in and see how they’re using the app.
Besides, Martynas Vareikis, Information Security Researcher at Cybernews, says that upon performing a static analysis of the BeReal app, the app security was graded 35/100 – with leftover old Application Program Interface keys, non-protected functions, and dangerous permissions.
“Due to the nature of the app, dangerous permissions are needed for it to function, although since some processes are not protected enough, they are still classified as dangerous,” Vareikis said.
“The app by its core would have received a better security score but having so many external libraries create potential problems, with remote webview debugging enabled, weak cryptographic algorithms, unprotected functions, insecure random number generators, and more. In reality, it seems unlikely that any of these will be used against the app user, but the possibility still exists.”
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