It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m scrolling down my social feed. There’s a picture of a bedroom wall, the inside of a bleak fridge, and a pair of legs sitting over a toilet seat. You might have guessed that this isn’t Instagram or Tik Tok.
Actually, it’s BeReal. The app’s USP is simple: at a different time everyday, users receive a notification with a prompt: “time to BeReal”. You have two minutes to snap a picture of what you’re doing and share it. You can retake or post late – but everyone can see how many retakes you did and how long it took. As one user put it: “if you’re on BeReal but you always post late then just go to Instagram because you’re still fake”.
The two-minute time slot could be announced at any time of the day – so there’s little time to preen and prep. You can’t control if you’re asked to capture the highlight of your day – or just your commute. And there’s no option to filter the photo and nobody counting likes. BeReal celebrates the authentic.
The app was started in 2020 by French co-founders Kévin Perreau and Alexis Barreyat who last year raised over $36 million from US venture capital firms. It’s currently the second most downloaded social media app on the App Store ahead of Facebook, Teleam and Skype (although Instagram is categorised as a “photo and video” app and Tik Tok as an “entertainment” app). Still, it’s spreading like wildfire by word of mouth, especially on university campuses in the US and UK.
I discovered it from my Gen Z cousin at a family dinner, when a number of coordinated pings went off and every young person picked up their phones to capture and share the moment. It makes perfect sense to me that their generation is obsessed with a site that prioritises authenticity. “It removes the element of performing that’s on so much other social media,” says Vith Ketheeswarana, 21.
Or, as my 23-year old cousin Ellie puts it: “I’m trying to spend less time on Instagram, but I don’t want to be completely cut off. BeReal feels like a happy medium.” On BeReal, there are no famous people and you can only see other people’s content if you share your own – no lurking allowed.
I love it: there’s no likes, no ads, just friends looking terrible doing nothing – and making me feel better for looking terrible and doing nothing. It doesn’t suck up my time, either.
Louis Barclay, the anti-online addiction developer whose Unfollow Everything tool got him banned for life by Facebook last year, likes that BeReal doesn’t try suck people into scrolling for hours, but he’s also cautious. “There’s another side to being real — living in the real world. And unless BeReal has the world’s most saintly venture capitalists backing them, they’ll feel the pressure to bump up their engagement stats soon”. It is unclear how the site plans to make money off their free, ad-less app.
My biggest issue with the app is the same reason it’s great. Being 10 per cent real also makes for some really awful photos. I can understand why the app is a hit with Gen Zs on their holidays from school taking snaps from picnics or parties, but for those of us whose friends have boring office jobs, the same view day in and day out may not be enough to drag you back to the site.
The other reason the app may be more suited to the younger generation is that without the close network of school or university, it is virtually impossible to convince a millennial to download a new social media app. It’s like trying to force a Gen Z to wear skinny jeans or a Boomer to use they/them pronouns. My cousin’s friend list is 63 people long, mine is 12 – and almost all of them are related to me. So please download it quickly so I can get some more friends.