Some of you are using BeReal exactly as it was intended. I applaud you for that. But some of you are using it in a very, very wrong way. You people know exactly who you are.
For those unfamiliar, BeReal is a social network that is an anti-social network in many ways. The app sends a notification to all users at a random time and informs them that it is “time to BeReal”. In theory, users open BeReal immediately after receiving this notification, take a picture of what they are doing at that moment and post it in the app. You cannot see someone else’s BeReals until you post your own BeReals.
On paper, it’s the opposite of Instagram. The latter app is notoriously curated — people fill it with gorgeous, carefully edited photos of themselves doing glamorous things with large groups of adoring friends. You post your best moments and, crucially, don’t post anything else.
But BeReal cannot be curated – or at least it is not intended to be. It is the Real you. Browsing Instagram you might feel like you’re the only one spending Friday night Netflix on your bed while everyone else is in town, but a scroll through BeReal reminds you that you’re not alone. It’s strangely comforting — it’s arguably the most effective online remedy for FOMO out there.
At least that is the intention.
But BeReal has a fatal flaw that I think is seriously disrupting its mission: the BeReal notification doesn’t expire. While you can’t post a BeReal before the notification goes out, you can post one at any time after the notification goes off (until the next day’s warning, of course).
As a result, there is little stopping people from using this app in the exact same way as Instagram Stories. That is, regardless of when the BeReal notification goes out, they consistently post every night at 8pm or so when they inevitably do something exciting. And they end with a BeReal full of artistic shots of coffee cups, martini glasses, beach sunsets and selfies with friends in glitzy locations – a curated reel meant to impress their followers. In other words, Instagram stories.
I see this in people I know (sorry, people I know), but I’m also a frequent scroller of the Discovery public feed, and this is clearly a trend that is growing across the platform. (And my frustration is not that these people are doing nicer things than me at 8pm – put down the pitchforks, residents of the comment section.)
Now I’m not criticizing late BeReals per se. Not all of us are always reachable when the notification pops up — I post BeReals myself which is occasionally a few hours late. But the people I’m talking about don’t. Instead, they intentionally, consistently ignore the timing of the BeReal notification and choose to place their posts on the highlights of their day. I don’t think this is a blurry or subjective line. You know if you fall into this category. You know very well.
I understand why you all want to do this. The instincts that made Instagram the FOMO monster don’t magically disappear when you use another app. Still, I believe this behavior is harmful – it runs counter to the pull that drew many of us to BeReal in the first place.
This is my case: When you become a member of BeReal, you enter into a social contract. I, as your fellow BeReal user, open up a part of myself to you. Let me show you that I’m not really the person you see on Instagram. I’m showing you myself – shameless, bald, boring – because I expect it to bring you some comfort.
And that is certainly the reason that you also joined BeReal, hypothetical BeReal Instagrammer. You joined because you were itching that Instagram wasn’t scratching. Some of you also wanted to look through the internet cesspool of curated nonsense – and that’s all BeReal has promised to offer.
But that has to be a two-way street. I open the everyday parts of my life to you because I hope you will open yours to me. We can be each other’s cure for the FOMO – we are the best weapons we have. But I ask you to give some of what you take.
BeReal users feel comfortable showing their boring, ugly selves in the app because other people do it too. We go into the sea. There is power in solidarity. The more the app is inundated with parties and arty wine cocktails, the less comfortable anyone wanting to use it for its intended purpose will feel. And then we all lose the unique appeal that drew us to BeReal in the first place. We’ll just have a much worse, much buggier Instagram on our hands.