If you haven’t heard of the BeReal app and aren’t Gen Z, you’re forgiven. The social media app is the latest to catch the attention of the younger generation – and its popularity is growing fast.
This year alone, downloads have increased by at least 315%, according to data from Apptopia.
What is BeReal?
Social media can take time and generate pressure, but BeReal says it aims to change that.
This is how it works. Once a day you get a notification from the app. It tells you that it’s time to post your BeReal for the day and that you have two minutes to do so. Your friends are also supposed to receive the notification at the same time.
The idea is that you take a picture of whatever you’re doing at the time, no matter how mundane or exciting. You might be walking to class, taking a bus to work, or maybe you get the notification just when you’re sitting down to dinner or taking a bike ride.
You take a picture of what you’re doing with your back camera, and at the same time your phone takes a picture of you with your front camera – surprise!
That’s it. There are no filters or third-party apps to alter your appearance. Reshoots are allowed and you can still post if you miss the window, but either way your friends will see that you reposted the image or posted late.
The settings in place are touted by the app as “a new and unique way to find out who your friends really are in their day-to-day lives.”
Users can also see where their friends are on a map and discover other publicly posted BeReals. The catch is that before you see someone else’s post for the day, you need to post your own photos.
Why is it popular now?
The 315% increase in BeReal downloads since the beginning of the year is significant, but it is not the only noteworthy figure. The app was launched by French entrepreneur Alexis Barreyat in 2020, but at least 65% of lifetime downloads occurred in the first quarter of 2022.
The app targets students with its ambassador program and it seems to be working.
Meredith Mueller is a sophomore at the University of Kansas where she is studying journalism. Mueller downloaded BeReal a few weeks ago after hearing about it from her roommate.
“I downloaded it, typed in my info, and then it came up with all my contacts with people who already had it,” Mueller said. “And I was like, how have I never heard of this and all these people in my contacts already have this?”
BeReal quickly became one of Mueller’s favorite social media apps.
“It’s so fun to pause throughout my day and go out there and see exactly what people are doing right now and, like, throughout their day and where people are at” , she said.
In total, Mueller said she has around 50 friends on BeReal, a much smaller number than the roughly 2,000 followers she has on Instagram. And unlike Instagram or Snapchat, where Mueller says there’s pressure “to look good,” she believes BeReal doesn’t have that false sentiment.
“Snapchat is more like you’re sending this to one person, if you’re posting on your story, you’re trying to look good,” she said. “While it’s like… wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you stop in the moment and all your friends can see it. It’s more like a down-to-earth app. I would say it’s like a judgment-free zone.”
Should BeReal change the situation?
The curation that individuals do on other social media platforms is part of what BeReal is trying to break with the lack of filters and timestamps it has. The goal seems to offer a more intimate view of your life.
Chris Stedman, author of IRL: Finding our true selves in a digital world, says there’s a need for spaces where people can let their guard down and just be themselves, but he also notes that curating other apps isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be a very human thing to do.
Stedman began working on his book after going through a tough time in his life and finding he wasn’t telling this story online, where he posted as if everything was fine.
“A big part of why I wrote this is because I was trying to figure out whether or not the internet is a place where we can feel human,” he said. “But the thing is, there’s nothing more human than maintaining a self that you share with the world.”
Highlights in your personal life are nothing new, Stedman said. Family photo albums or childhood home movies are also snapshots of the best moments.
Stedman hasn’t used BeReal, and he said he probably wouldn’t, but he can see why Gen Z might like the app.
“I think one of the big challenges people feel on social media is that I see everyone’s highlights, but I’m living the fullness of my own life with all the mundane things,” Stedman said. “To be able to get that reminder that everyone’s life is largely made up of mundane moments too, I can definitely see some value in that.”
BeReal appears to serve a function similar to some group chats Stedman already has in his life, he said. These are places where not every photo needs to be polished, where friends share connections and are more intimate about the details of their lives.
Overall, Stedman says a key factor to consider when connecting with friends in DMs or on a broader social platform is how exactly you go about it.
“At the end of the day, no matter what platform you’re on, the most important thing is to be intentional and aware of why you’re using the platforms in the first place and what you try to get out of it,” Stedman says.