“Real,” I scream at anything with the slightest relatability or amusement, and while not everything is real, the idea that something is authentic is the biggest flex. As I and my friends attribute the word to any and everything, I realize that this is the same phrase we apply online.
Our internet “realness” has dictated a turn in social media. Apps like BeReal are now committed to an organic social media experience. With a notification decreeing “It’s time to BeReal,” users post an unfiltered image of themselves each day. This philosophy has gained massive traction, with BeReal users jumping from 921,000 in July 2021 to 21.6 million one year later.
Other media companies recognized this change and created copycat platforms, like TikTok Now which has the same features as BeReal. This shift isn’t something entirely new. Remember Poparazzi and Clubhouse These sites have in common is that they move away from the traditional social media experience by putting weight on exclusivity.
You needed an invitation to get into Clubhouse, a mutual’s handle to build a BeReal feed, and someone else to take a photo of you for Poparazzi. These apps not only promote “realness” but also a collectivist mindset that users can’t find in other apps. For Gen Z this seems to be the biggest priority.
Alexis, a 17-year-old BeReal user, explains how the app is a way for her to “show others what you are doing in that instance.” She also adds how the app takes out the desire to be perfect through new photo trends. “The blurry, and ‘phone to sky’ selfies contribute to [this] candidness trend. It shows that you are willing to upload anything and you don’t care if it isn’t really a perfect ‘aesthetic picture.’”
This movement also translates into our everyday lives. Nur Safa, a Gen Z BeReal user, breaks down how the renowned phrase: “[‘REAL’] has been taken over to have an almost satirical meaning. It can be attached to a joke or serious moment and have the same implication that just means the person can relate in some capacity or another.”
Before the era of BeReal, media authenticity was the epitome of social media status; to somehow prove that you were the natural part of an engineered world. If we go back to, say, 2018, your Instagram feed was probably filled with the I-am-staring-at-the-camera-because-I’m-pretty or the look-at-the-dope-wall-behind-me-that-I-totally-didn’t-spend-days-looking-for photos that usually took hours to plan, shoot, edit and of course to post. It was a whole lot of work, for a whole lot of nothing.
If you were to open the Gram today, (I’m pulling a page out of Olivia Rodrigo’s book for this one) you would see posts like this, this, and whatever this is.
I promise your screen wasn’t glitching on that last one. That is just what today’s social media has turned into. Posing for photos and trying to curate the perfect feed just isn’t going to cut it. Consciously or not, there has always been this desire to be relatable and effortless in our online appearance. I’m not even sure what label to give this, other than a media candidness revolution.
Kaiti Yoo, an internet personality who frequently posts clothing and outfit content, discussed this shift with Paste. “When social media first came into the fray, that desire manifested in perfect poses and curated backdrops,” she said. “However, it’s also human nature to crave what is authentic, scarce and rare…We’re in the middle of a turnover. These days, it’s a ‘pretend the camera isn’t there’ or ‘oops you totally caught me in the moment’ aesthetic.”
Not only has the style of media changed, but the time we spend crafting that media informs our online authenticity. “A 15-second video or a once-a-day snapshot inevitably restricts the amount of self-editing and preparation that can take place prior,” Yoo added. “Hence giving way to a more #real and #relatable depiction.”
Young people are increasingly craving authenticity in meida, and social media apps are working hard to show, as BeReal puts it, “your friends, for real.”