BeReal and the Doomed Quest for Online Authenticity


In his ascension to the coveted top spot on the app store charts, BeReal, the French photo-sharing app launched in 2020, has been heralded as the antidote to social media fakery. Avoiding clever staging and fancy curation, BeReal gives users just two minutes after a request to send a dual front camera/rear camera image. Only after posting their own BeReal, users can see their friends’ “moment and reaction” dual image montages, without filters and FaceTune.

Performance shaming is built into the app’s design: if someone misses the two-minute time limit or retakes a photo, their friends are told they didn’t. real state.

Billing itself as “not another social network,” BeReal’s rejection of other platforms is as brazen as it is irreverent. Its App Store description, for example, redirects would-be fame-seekers to competitors with a false taunt: “If you want to become an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.” Ur-narrative is that other platforms they are magnets for superficial performativity and inauthenticity, a representation reinforced by their “No bullshit. No ads.”

While BeReal has been praised for its spontaneity, informality and providing “unvarnished looks at everyday life”, many wonder if it will live up to the hype. But perhaps a more important question is whether We, users, have overcome the perfectionist culture of likes associated with mainstream social networks, especially Instagram.

By some accounts, we have: Researchers have seen a significant increase in “social media fatigue,” which they attribute in part to the pandemic. But even the most tech-weary among us find it hard to ignore the mandate to present our best (digital) selves. And so, despite the pretense of novelty, BeReal represents the latest iteration in the cycle of social networking sites emerging from the tension of authenticity and performance.

The research we have carried out on social networks and youth cultures has left us skeptical of any guarantee of “reality” placed by platforms, or by any company, for that matter. After all, the promise of authenticity is deeply and ambivalently ingrained in brand culture. When, in 1971, Coca-Cola decisively declared its soft drink “the real thing,” it took a not-so-subtle jab at competitor Pepsi. The result usurped Pepsi’s counterculture image of “brazen insurgents [and] cheeky upstarts mocking the dull repressive mores of the past.” As media historian Jefferson Pooley has argued, the more earnestly we pursue an “authentic” sense, the more marketers try to lure us in with products and services that might satisfy that need But, of course, it is a Sisyphean effort.

As the “glue wars” made abundantly clear, there is a generational dynamic that underpins the commercial promise of authenticity. In a 2016 trial, real life Editor and writer Rob Horning described “authenticity” as “commercialized nostalgia for that way of life that was articulated by a different set of economic relations: pre-capitalist, pre-massified, or pre-globalized, whatever the word that you want to use to describe what it looked like when you were nine years old, when things were ‘real’.

And therein lies a key to BeReal’s marketing arbitrage: its primary focus on Generation Z, the first “digitally native” generation, has never known a world without social media (literally, or at least conceptually). In Horning’s framing, each generation has its own version of a more authentic world (the one you know to your 9-year-old). Depending on your age, this could be represented by Facebook, askFM, MySpace or perhaps no social network at all. While Gen Z’s “real world” is probably more of a cacophony of platforms than previous generations, it’s worth noting that Gen Z members have been socialized into the art of strategic self-presentation from what they remember.

With every new app, the Big Tech mouthpieces try to fool us with a repackaged version of authenticity. But as users and advertisers join the fray, the business imperative wins again and again. And so, we share our spontaneous collages in the “anti-Instagram” until the Next Big App convinces us to abandon the charade. In a 2017 paper, researchers Meredith Salisbury and Jefferson Pooley offer the concept of “reactive dynamism” to describe this cyclicality, in which each new social network is defined against the seemingly obvious one of its predecessor. inauthenticity. They note that then-popular platforms like Peach and Beme sold versions of authenticity that their hyperconformist, ad-driven competitors like Facebook and Instagram no longer offered. But crucially, even the latter two promised authenticity in their early days of rise.



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