A new viral app, BeReal, has promised a less superficial social media experience. Will the company’s success turn out to be a fad or symptomatic of a growing need for media authenticity? The New Arab dives deep into the app and its Arab users.
Remember the early social media days of Facebook and Twitter before they became absurd fake news platforms?
When social media was just about sharing status updates on our notable life events and small moments in our daily lives, like snapping a picture of our morning coffee and captioning it with a deep quote from Nietzsche.
Back when we all got into social media, it was an exciting world and even an act of rebellion for some to have an account on these platforms.
“No one can deny how vocally GenZers speak out about mental health issues, social issues and general worldviews. It seems that GenZers around the world are banding together to make online presence essentially humane, leading to more authenticity and less perfection.”
Those nostalgic days of navigating digital life and sharing our raw lives through flashing, heavily color-saturated images are pretty much over now.
After the rise of content monetization, ads and sponsorships, there is a price for every contribution.
Most of the content on our timelines is staged and very polished with proper lighting, slick design and smooth filters. Somehow everyone looks very neat, eats excellent meals, wears trendy clothes and always hangs out in an amazing landscape.
But if you look away from the screen and spend a moment in real life, you’ll quickly realize that this curated online reel can’t be real. Perhaps social media needs to come full circle, and that’s exactly what BeReal envisions for the future of virtual communications.
The concept of BeReal, the new popular social app, is simply to buck the mainstream social media culture by promoting the app as “the first social network where people spontaneously share their real lives”.
In about 18 months, BeReal users have grown from 10,000 to 10 million, an exponential growth that can be explained by the web’s appeal for honest social communication.
How the app works varies – let’s say there are a lot of instructions to follow. Once the user signs up for the app, they will receive a notification with two warning signs asking them to “get real” within two minutes.
This feature can be entertaining at first, but imagine getting a notification after a meeting with your boss who has just informed you that this is your last week at work and at the same moment it is BeReal watch.
The app’s popularity seems to be spreading rapidly. A few weeks ago, in a room full of people, each of our phones vibrated simultaneously with the instruction to BeReal and take a selfie of our surroundings.
The app encourages activity, so there’s no way you’re lurking and silently watching other people without posting your moment. It gives the user two minutes to post a photo from the rear camera and quickly post another from the front.
“Although the enthusiasm started in Europe and the USA, more and more users in the MENA region are intrigued by the concept. In Cairo someone posts a picture of them stuck in traffic, in Sanaa the city is full of green decorations on the streets, and in Beirut there are selfies of toes and sand since it’s still beach time.
For browsing, the UI contains two tabs – one with your friends, which is pulled from the contacts on the user’s phone – and the other tab is Discovery, which is public.
Apparently, people everywhere live the same boring lives. Most of the stories are images of keyboards, screens and pets. While the other half are just everyday errands with props like a treadmill, prayer mat, and plates of food.
Although the craze started in Europe and the US, more and more users in the MENA region are intrigued by the concept. In Cairo someone is stuck in traffic, in Sanaa the city is full of green decorations on the streets, and in Beirut there are pictures of toes and sand since it is still beach time.
The concept of promoting authenticity and rawness in online social networks has potential and a positive vision: “At some point you get fed up with social media and the perfection you see in it, so this felt like a much-needed change says Sami Abd Elbaki, the Dubai-based head of content at an advertising company.
Because the user’s contacts are under the “My Friends” tab, the app experience makes it easier to catch up on what a small group of friends is really up to. “It creates a sense of privacy and intimacy,” adds Sami.
The massive buzz for BeReal is similar to what Tiktok and Clubhouse have seen for the past two years.
The pandemic lockdown measures have created an opportunity for new social media apps to enter the market. People longed for human contact outside of their household, participated in challenges and started group chats on all sorts of topics.
These two apps offered a different and innovative networking experience and ultimately acted as content and information production platforms.
However, it is currently difficult to predict how BeReal will compete in this market. “Whatever the app does to share moments with close friends, you can achieve it on other platforms – users these days want to consume content,” points out Doha-based creative director Ammar Alqamash.
He also adds that the reaction feature is a discard as there doesn’t seem to be a need to react and relate the number of interactions to real life stories.
This is a long-running debate in the world of psychological analysis and social media consumption. This research in particular has consistently shown results of vulnerability to anxiety and depression symptoms in young adults via number of likes.
BeReal was founded in 2020 by Alexis Barreyat and Kevin Perreau, who both graduated from university in 2017. The team behind the product consists of a large number of recent GenZ graduates, who also represent the main target segment.
No one can deny how vocal GenZers are about mental health issues, social issues, and general worldviews. It seems that GenZers around the world are banding together to make online presence essentially humane, leading to more authenticity and less perfection.
Hala Al-Sadi has a background in information technology management and experience in media and cultural production. Hala is currently working in the fields of creative industries between digital design, journalism and communication.
Follow her on Twitter: @halak404