New social media app asks users to ‘BeReal’

Carson Lott, Contributing Writer

A French programmer and entrepreneur created the social media app BeReal in 2020 to combat what he saw as an increasingly unhealthy and materialistic social media landscape. Seemingly out of nowhere, BeReal has made its way to college campuses.  

BeReal describes itself as “a new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.”

At a random time every day, BeReal notifies users that they have two minutes to capture a snapshot of their life with both the front and back cameras of their phones. The photos aren’t supposed to be curated, but rather a realistic representation of your day-to-day activities, from walking to class to studying in Gorgas to a night out. 

Users cannot view their friends’ BeReals until they post their own. 

“I really like the emphasis on only posting once a day, so it doesn’t try to get you to spend lots of time on it like other social media apps,” said Quinn Hirschland, a freshman majoring in international studies. 

Without normal social media features, like stories, sharing and liking, there’s little to do on the app except to view your feed. Users can react to their friends’ BeReals using a “RealMoji,” which is either a preset reaction or a live photo. 

There’s little sensationalizing of the self with BeReal. The description of the app on the Apple app store says, “If you want to become an influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”

However, with no advertisements on the platform and no premium features, some worry that BeReal’s main source of profit is user data.

“It does appear that they will apply contractual clauses and/or other mechanisms approved by the [European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation law] with regards to disclosure of personal data. However, on their website, the app does inform their users that personal data would only be transmitted to third-party contractors that are involved in the provision of service,” said Yi Ting Chua, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice with expertise in cybercrime.

Chua said that since the BeReal app developer is headquartered in the EU, BeReal would be required to follow the General Data Protection Regulation laws, as well as certain regional laws. 

This decision came after a nearly four-year legal battle with Meta, formerly Facebook, against the European Commission’s new regulations. Most recently, Meta threatened to discontinue Instagram and Facebook services in Europe over the EU’s strict antitrust decisions. 

With no advertisements on the platform and no premium features currently available, the platform can look eerily similar to platforms known for data collection and exploitation, concerns that a majority of social media users share.

Chua said as of now, it seems that BeReal is relying mostly on investor and startup funds

“It is unclear what the profit model is now,” Chua said. “The app does have positive aims and intent, such as focusing on and promoting the use of authentic and candid pictures and encouraging less time being spent on content curation.”

BeReal attempts to take aim at social media giants by actively denying their own rules and standards, instead opting for a more traditional social media experience that harkens back to the earliest days of Instagram and Facebook. 

With ideas like “Make Instagram Casual Again” on the rise, BeReal offers the originality of a simple, easy-to-use and conventional photo-sharing app. For some, the rarity of authenticity trumps the unknown price of the dangers of data collection.

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