New social media app BeReal is trending in colleges as a “casual instagram”

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Students on the College of Charleston campus in Charleston, SC on September 13, 2021. MANDATORY CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Micah Green, via Washington Post Syndication Service.

On a recent Saturday evening, around 10 p.m., Sukhmani Kaur, an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, saw two of her friends receive an eye-catching notification on their phones. “It’s time to be real,” he said. In response, they hastily snapped photos of themselves and their dinner, which they then rushed to share online. When Kaur asked what they were doing, her friends explained that they were using a new social media app called BeReal. On the spot, Kaur decided to download it too.

BeReal, which promotes itself as a more authentic social media platform, is rapidly gaining popularity on college campuses across the country, based on a simple premise. “You’re supposed to show your true self,” Kaur said.

At a varying time each day, BeReal users receive a single mass notification prompting them to take two photos – simultaneous images, taken through their phone’s front and rear camera lens. Everyone has two minutes to take the photos, which are then shared with their followers on the app. People who miss the daily notification can post late, but those images are obviously marked as late. To see everyone else’s contributions, a user must first upload their own daily snapshots.

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There are no filters or “likes”. The idea behind it is that by giving users a short delay, there is little time left for anyone to take the perfect image. People can pose or style their hair quickly, but more often than not, users are forced to share whatever is going on in their life at that particular moment, no matter how prosaic or unglamorous. On the App Store, BeReal welcomes new users with a concise motto: “BeReal is life, real life, and this life is without filters”.

The Parisian company behind BeReal was co-founded by Kévin Perreau and Alexis Barreyat. He raised funds from a handful of US-based venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and DST Global, which led a $36.6m Series A that ended in June 2021. Perreau did not respond to an interview request, and Barreyat declined to speak to Bloomberg News via a company representative. According to a recent story in Protocol, Barreyat was inspired to create BeReal, in part, by the bright, overly manicured style of influencers he constantly saw on social media during a previous job as a video producer for GoPro. .

“After being tired and annoyed by all the bulls – on social media, I decided to start my own,” Barreyat wrote in a LinkedIn post.

The app, which went live in 2020, first gained popularity in France, where it was developed. In recent months, it has taken off in American universities. Recently, student newspapers from Rice University to the University of Iowa documented the rise of the app on their campuses. Between January 2021 and February 2022, BeReal had nearly 4 million downloads worldwide on the App Store and Google Play, according to data from Sensor Tower. Almost 30% of them arrived in February 2022.

Some users believe that BeReal’s unfiltered selfies and candid photos of friends provide a more realistic depiction of their lives than what is typically seen on other platforms. “It’s kind of boring looking at social media sometimes,” said Jennifer Lindley, a sophomore at Lehigh University. She said she was tired of looking at “those posed things that you know aren’t real”.

Last year, internal company research leaked on Instagram found that teens often associate the highly curated app with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. BeReal’s approach seems designed to encourage people to feel good about themselves. Sean McGuire, a sophomore at Northeastern University, said BeReal is a “clever way to deconstruct the formal and fake side of social media.”

For many users, BeReal also takes less time than more established rivals. Katie So, a sophomore at Yale University, said she spends two or three hours a day browsing Instagram, but spends less than an hour on BeReal, taking her daily photos and browse photos of friends. On BeReal, users can upload reaction images and emojis to their friends’ posts. They can also leave comments.

“We have so many identical forms of social media,” So said. “When something new comes out like this, I want to try it.”

BeReal could turn out to be another social media fad. Apps that provide basic functionality “usually don’t last,” said Alice Marwick, co-founder of the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“How often are you going to post really boring pictures of yourself?” said Amanda Lenhart, researcher at Data & Society, an independent research institute.

If BeReal’s popularity continues to grow, chances are bigger social media companies will eventually try to replicate its unique features, Marwick said. Years after Snapchat turned down a multibillion-dollar acquisition offer from Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s company rolled out a feature called “Stories,” which mimicked a similar offer from the rival company. In 2020, Instagram launched the Reels video feature, a near-imitator of TikTok.

In the meantime, BeReal seems to be establishing itself with a demographic ready to try something new. According to internal company data from March 2021, Facebook is losing popularity among teens and young adults. A 2021 Pew Research survey found that while Facebook is popular among people between the ages of 30 and 49, compared to older users, a growing number of young adults prefer Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc.

For now, BeReal is focusing on the same habitat that Facebook conquered long ago: college life. BeReal’s Ambassador Program pays students to promote the app on their campuses through sponsored events and parties.

Lindley, Lehigh’s second, didn’t expect to become such a regular user when she downloaded the app two months ago. But she likes that BeReal feels authentic and doesn’t take up too much of her time. Above all, she likes the routine aspect of taking pictures once a day. There’s a “satisfaction in doing it just once,” Lindley said.

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