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BeReal and the Doomed Quest for On-line Authenticity


On its ascent to the coveted top spot in app retailer charts, BeReal—the French photo-sharing app launched in 2020—has been heralded because the antidote to social media fakery. Staving off canny staging and slick curation, BeReal gives users simply two minutes following a immediate to submit a twin front-camera/back-camera picture. Solely after posting their very own BeReal are customers capable of view their buddies’ twin picture montages of “the moment and the reaction,” sans filters and FaceTune.

Performativity-shaming is baked into the app’s design: If somebody misses the two-minute deadline or retakes a shot, their buddies are tipped off that they haven’t been actual.

In pitching itself as “not another social network,” BeReal’s rebuff of different platforms is as unabashed as it’s irreverent. Its App Retailer description, for example, reroutes fame-seeking aspirants to rivals with a faux-taunt: “If you wish to develop into an influencer you may keep on TikTok and Instagram.” The ur-narrative is that different platforms are magnets for shallow performativity and inauthenticity—a portrayal which is bolstered by its “No bullshit. No ads” stance.

Whereas BeReal has been lauded for its spontaneity, informality, and provision of “unvarnished glimpses into everyday life,” many are questioning if it can outlive the hype. However maybe a extra vital query is whether or not we, the customers, have outgrown the tradition of likes-tallying perfectionism related to mainstream social networks, most notably Instagram. 

By some accounts, we’ve: Researchers have famous a major uptick in “social media fatigue,” which they attribute partly to the pandemic. However even the tech-weariest amongst us discover it onerous to ignore the mandate to place ahead our greatest (digital) selves. And so, regardless of the pretense of novelty, BeReal represents the newest iteration within the cycle of social media websites that spring from the push-and-pull pressure of authenticity and performance.

The analysis we’ve carried out on social media and youth cultures has left us skeptical of any glib assurance of “realness” peddled by platforms—or any firm, for that matter. In any case, the promise of authenticity is deeply, and ambivalently, rooted in model tradition. When in 1971, Coca-Cola resolutely declared its soda “the actual factor,” it made a not-so-subtle jab at competitor Pepsi. The consequence all however usurped Pepsi’s counterculture picture of “impudent insurrectionaries [and] sassy upstarts flouting the dull repressive mores of the past.” As media historian Jefferson Pooley has argued, the extra earnestly we pursue an “genuine” sense of self, the extra entrepreneurs attempt to entice us with services that may fulfill that want. However, after all, it’s a Sisyphean endeavor.

Because the “Cola Wars” made abidingly clear, there’s a generational dynamic underpinning the business promise of authenticity. In a 2016 essay, Real Life editor and writer Rob Horning described “authenticity” as “commercialized nostalgia for that lifestyle that was articulated by a special set of financial relations: precapitalistic, or pre-massified, or pre-globalized—no matter phrase you need to use to explain the way it appeared once you have been 9 years previous, when issues have been ’actual.’”

And therein lies a key to BeReal’s advertising and marketing gambit: its core give attention to Gen Z, the primary “digitally native” era, by no means understanding a world with out social media (actually, or at the very least conceptually). In Horning’s framing, every era has its personal model of a extra genuine world (the one acquainted to 9-year-old you). Relying in your age, that may very well be epitomized by Facebook, askFM, MySpace, or maybe no social media in any respect. Whereas Gen Z’s “genuine world” is probably going extra of a platform cacophony than earlier generations’ was, it’s value noting that Gen Z members have been socialized within the artwork of strategic self-presentation from way back to they’ll bear in mind.

With every new app, Huge Tech mouthpieces attempt to beguile us with a repackaged model of authenticity. However as users and advertisers be a part of the fray, the business crucial wins out time and again. And so, we share our spontaneous collages on the “anti-Instagram” till the Subsequent Huge App convinces us to desert the charade. In a 2017 article, researchers Meredith Salisbury and Jefferson Pooley supply the idea of “reactive dynamism” to explain this cyclicality, whereby every new social community defines itself in opposition to its precursor’s seeming inauthenticity. They notice that then-buzzy platforms like Peach and Beme peddled variations of authenticity that their ad-driven, hyper-conformist rivals like Fb and Instagram not supplied. However, crucially, even the latter two promised authenticity of their earlier, scaling-up days.

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