Two minutes a day to be authentic: Does BeReal show real life?

Once a day, BeReal prompts you to post a photo combo of a selfie and a picture of your surroundings. — Photo: Laura Ludwig/dpa

BERLIN: Out of the blue in the middle of your day, the push notification hits your smartphone: "You have two minutes to post your BeReal and see what your friends are doing."

This notification sums up the concept of the popular and still relatively new photo sharing app BeReal. The idea is simple: Every day at a different time, all of the app’s users take a photo within two minutes of the notification and post it.

The app’s developers say the goal is to show real life, authentic, spontaneous, and without filters, setting it apart from the likes of Instagram and TikTok. Founded in 2020, the platform has since become one of the most downloaded apps of 2022 in many countries.

"It's a place to capture real life," the company says, adding that BeReal wants to be an alternative to other networks that fuel social comparisons and do everything but connect people.

Two simultaneous photos

Once users get their notification to post their daily photo on BeReal they have two minutes to do so and it's not just a simple photo.

Photos have to be taken simultaneously with the front and rear cameras, which means there’s a selfie, but also a photo of the user’s surroundings.

Only when you have uploaded your photo combo do the BeReals of your own contacts become visible. If you don't react to the push message immediately, you can still post your BeReal at a later time. However, it’s then marked with the addition "Late."

The app also shows how many times you tried different versions before uploading your photo combo.

"That marks a kind of rule violation, if you will," says art and cultural studies professor Katja Gunkel of Goethe University in Frankfurt. Marking how late a BeReal was posted and how many attempts it took someone to do it can be stigmatising, she says.

"It can give the impression: ‘You obviously can't get it right the first time.’ This can result in a form of shaming," says the researcher of new media. Although the app started out with the idea of taking pressure off people, it can have the opposite effect.

While there is criticism of platforms such as Instagram that says that users and influencers there often present their lives as too staged, BeReal shows a different form of uniformity.

"The fact that I really notice is that the push notifications only happens at times when I'm idle, whether I'm on my way to work or on the couch," says Gunkel. As a result, you'll often see pictures of people who aren't particularly busy at that moment.

Think before you post

BeReal requires a different approach because to take a photo you have to control your own face and your surroundings at the same time.

Because of such insights, some of which are very private, users should think carefully about what they want to show, despite the time pressure, says Dominik Rudolph, who works with a youth advice centre in Germany.

Parents should discuss the app with their children. BeReal is approved by the provider for ages 13 and upwards, but Rudolph points out that after registration, the app does not check whether the age information is correct. Therefore, the involvement of parents or guardians is essential.

They could first get an impression of the app themselves and then create a profile together with the child, he advises. Older children should be talked to about the potential risks of using the app.

It also makes sense to share your BeReals only with your friends and not to make them public, in which case you have no influence over who can see them.

Another important point, especially for children and young people, is to deactivate your location in the app. Last but not least, if you find the app is adding to the stress you already have from social media apps, then just delete it, Rudolph advises. – dpa

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