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BeReal, Social Media’s Newest Trend, Lets You Be You

The app promises to be a more authentic way to showcase yourself

three stills from bereal
COURTESY: JIM AND PATRICK LENAHAN/AARP

Social media may have started as a way for people to connect with friends and family and share thoughts and experiences. But over a couple of decades, seemingly endless snark — photos that present unrealistic versions of people’s lives — and revenue-motivated “influencers” who carefully script their posts have overrun many sites, say a number of critics.

A 2-year-old platform that asks you to share one photo at a random time each day is skyrocketing to popularity based on the promise of a return to more simple times. And it offers benefits to older users, especially those looking to connect with grown kids who might not want Mom and Dad looking at their Instagram.

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The free app for iPhones and Androids, called BeReal, debuted in December 2019 and has been downloaded more than 53 million times worldwide as of October. It hit the top spot on Apple’s App store in July. A majority of the new downloads come from the United States, according to San Francisco-based Sensor Tower, which analyzes app data.

“BeReal is an app that really is meant to be intergenerational and less intrusive, to a degree,” says Janet Taylor, 60, a psychiatrist in Sarasota, Florida. “And it’s really cool because it reminds you to be in the moment. It clearly focuses on the beauty of living life.”

As of April, the most recent data available, more than 98 percent of users are 16 to 44, Generation Zers and millennials, according to San Francisco-based data.ai, formerly App Annie, which also analyzes app data. The remainder are older Gen Xers and baby boomers. Nearly 3 in 5 are women.

How BeReal works

At a random time once each day, BeReal sends out a notification to all users to take a picture of what they are doing at that moment. The smartphone app gives them two minutes to snap a picture, using both the front and back camera on the phone, so the moment captures their face as well as what they are looking at.

Unless the user chooses otherwise, the app shares those photos only with their connections on BeReal, a closed group. It’s common to see your friends doing such things as cooking, working at their desks, shopping or grabbing takeout — real things they do throughout the day.

About 9 percent of Android phone users opened the app every day from July to the end of September this year, according to Sensor Tower. To compare, nearly 40 percent of Instagram users and nearly 30 percent of TikTok users on Androids opened those apps in the second quarter of 2022.

The two-minute limit to BeReal means users have little time for primping, preening and set design. You can look at friends’ pictures only after posting one yourself, and the photos are available for a limited time. TikTok’s shorter videos also are part of the closer-to-reality trend.

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What the app means for older adults

“I have four daughters, and one accepted my friend request” on BeReal, Taylor says. “She lives in New York City, and I get to see her in a taxicab or with her friends, and it’s really fun. As we get older, the more we should learn and explore in a safe way.”

The app does present some privacy concerns, according to Jeff Williams, global head of security at Prague-based antivirus software maker Avast. The photos may be available to your friends for a limited time, but the company has granted itself 30 years to repurpose user photos in any form. Photos you take with the app capture your location data automatically unless you prevent it in the app’s settings. Because you take the photos quickly and can’t edit them, you may end up sharing personal information unintentionally.

Despite the two-minute window to take a photo, BeReal can be less anxiety-inducing than other social media platforms because it requires less effort and thought.

“I think most of us only post when we’re doing something uber-uber-uber cool, or we’ve prepped for it and we want to show people how great we are,” Taylor says. “But here the mentality is really a mindful one where you’re not looking too far backward or too far forward. You’re in the present moment with self-awareness, and that’s really the value.”

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