By: Jenna Piotrowicz
June 16th, 2023
This article is part of our Winter 2023 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
In early 2022, an app called “BeReal” hit the Gen Z population. The app’s premise was to send users a notification once a day, and then they would have two minutes to stop and take a picture of whatever they were doing at that moment.
The concept was new and exciting, and in the beginning it was a fun way to see what friends were doing at an exact moment, with no filters and no “fake” captured moments.
However, the app quickly came under scrutiny. Since the two-minute timer does not begin until someone opens the app, many began to wait to take their BeReal until they were doing something interesting. This is known as the “Posted Late” phenomenon, which defeats the purpose of being real and taking the picture at the given time.
This raises the question: can anyone really “BeReal” on social media? The persona that many prioritize on these platforms is something that cannot remain authentic. Although founded with good intentions, the app has become yet another calculated piece of social media.
Michigan State University student Alex Wahl has never downloaded the app. When asked why she never jumped on the phenomenon, she said, “It just seemed like yet another social media platform to me. I have all of the other ones, and it just didn’t feel necessary to have this one.” This perspective used to be uncommon, but now even users of the app have begun to catch on to its lack of authenticity.
When asked what she thought of the BeReal app, Michigan State University student Lauren Travis noted that she has had a bit of a change of heart since the beginning of owning the app.
“Originally, it was this really cool idea. You and your friends all would stop what you were doing and post a picture. It didn’t matter if you were in bed with no makeup on, everyone did it. But as it became more popular, it turned into something really different. People were posting late more and more often, waiting to take the BeReal until they were doing something interesting. It was totally defeating the whole purpose.”
Although a saddening turn of events for the app and its authenticity, this is nothing new in the scope of social media today. Users curate their social media accounts to portray the person they think they are, or who they want to be. A person’s artificial persona is valued by the media landscape more than authenticity. Many are aware of the reality of how that “candid” picture was simply taken to look like a candid picture.
An interview with Michigan State University student Anna Ackerman revealed the awareness that younger generations have about the reality of the media landscape.
“I honestly think it is impossible for anyone to ‘BeReal’ on social media nowadays. I feel like social media has become this space for people to create whatever image of themselves they want. They don’t need to be authentic. With filters and editing, nothing is real anymore.”
This is a common understanding among social media users. These idealized versions of ourselves are our safe spaces, and our comfort. The performative nature of these platforms is meant to turn the mundanity of everyday life into something more interesting.
According to the article “Perceived authenticity of social media influencers” from the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, “despite its importance, no measurement scale currently exists for perceived authenticity of social media influencers.” With many aspects of the internet to still be discovered, a lot of this research is new and underfunded. Many don’t even realize the issues behind influencer marketing and portraying only your best self online.
So what is at the root of this necessity for portraying such a persona online? There is likely a strong connection to the world of celebrities and influencers users consume daily.
“Our generation has grown up seeing celebrities on magazine covers, edited and photoshopped to perfection. It made us seem like these people had zero flaws. I think that has made people strive for that perfection, even if it means editing and filtering your own photos to feel more comfortable in your own skin. I think it has taught us so much more self-doubt and insecurity,” said Ackerman.
Even the moments where influencers seem to “BeReal” often are still posed and faked to seem authentic and genuine. This can be extremely misleading to an audience, and especially followers who idolize everything the influencer says and does.
With all of these issues arising, it is natural to question what people can do to change the stigma.
“I’m not sure there will ever be a surefire way to make social media totally authentic and real. I think it’s just important to have that self-awareness about your purpose on social media, and recognize the realities behind the screen and curated images. Instagram is not reality, it’s often only showing the very best parts of someone’s life. Once you recognize that, it’s a little easier to look past the perfection we assume,” said Wahl.
However, there is some hope, and Gen Z may be the group to change it all. According to a report by GWI, 45% of Gen Z believe that there is too much pressure to be perfect on social media. This generation has the power to change these curated personalities into being more involved with self expression and authenticity, and change social media into something more important, with purpose and a voice.
Shauna Moran of GWI notes, “Some audiences are trying to close the chapter on the curated self and its unreal standards of perfection, meaning companies and social media personalities who fail to dig deeper may miss out on a great opportunity to meet followers where they are.”
The BeReal app seems to still have some steam, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. In its future, one can only hope that users will come back and find the purpose of using the app for joy and specially captured moments, not more curated content.
After all, according the study “Authentic Self-Expression on Social Media is Associated with Greater Subjective Well-Being,” co-author Erica Bailey says “if people want to take part in social media, they should use it to share what they really care about, what they are actually doing, and how they truly feel.”
In the age of technology,it may seem futile to attempt getting rid of social media. However, users can change how they consume it. They should find a purpose, a voice, and ignore what other people are doing, in favor of what makes them truly happy. Only then does authenticity in social media have a chance of rising on its own.
Jenna Piotrowicz is a senior majoring in professional and public writing, aspiring to be a writer or editor in her future. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, TV shows and working on her own screenplays, hoping to create the next big feature film.