I can vividly remember my very last hour of the day during our first week of school. Our teacher was busy explaining his grading system in the syllabus packet he handed out and because of the significance of the topic at hand, he had almost everyone’s attention. Out of nowhere, a student who was looking at their phone under the desk in what they thought was an inconspicuous manner yelped out 4 words that I thought of as complete gibberish but my fellow classmates understood as a mutual term: “It’s Be Real time!”
Now, the first thought that came to my mind was, “aren’t we always real?” The teacher was similarly muddled but my peers didn’t reciprocate this confusion. Within a span of 2 frantic minutes, everyone held their mobile devices and snapped pictures of whatever showed up in the frame of their front and back cameras.
As someone who has rarely been affected by FOMO, I felt merely confused and less excluded, so to speak. I wanted to research more into this 4-worded magical spell and what made young adults who have bright futures ahead of them feel so compelled to fall to the perilously hypnotizing power of Big Tech and, specifically, social media giants like Be Real. I wanted to learn more about the underlying factor behind the creation of this app and the irony of how it has now twisted away from its bona fide purpose. But most importantly, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of its current functions to predict the future of similar app concepts. Here’s what I found.
Be Real is an app that was created in 2020 but rapidly gained popularity in mid-2022 with many social media influencers promoting its original message. What exactly is this message, you ask? Well, many social media posts in the modern world are carefully curated to maximize the likes, comments, and shares that it gets. However, this meticulous planning to make the post look rather utopian has negative consequences on both the viewers and the poster. The one who posts the picture lives in a world with a false sense of security in which they have to assure themselves that they are a good human being based on the number of positive (and negative) reactions that their post gets. The viewers see these flawless posts and feel as though others are enjoying their lives more, forcing them to fall under the illusion that, they too, have to post perfect pictures to gain approval from others. This cycle of accidentally hurting others’ feelings while destabilizing your faith in yourself results in widespread fear which increases addiction, and the more view time that these social media platforms have, the more profit they make. And, when you add controversial content to the mix, these dollar values and hours spent on platforms bust through the roof. A cynical cycle of tech giants capitalizing on self-caused fear within mass groups of people: that’s one way to define modern-day social media.
Be Real recognized this problem, but instead of fixing it, you will soon find that they attempted to make it even more worse. During advertising, the app was ostensibly portrayed as a truthful approach to social media when in reality, it is simply a way to capitalize on the capitalization that was discussed in the previous paragraph.
In a nutshell, the Be Real app’s function was to emphasize digital honesty above all other principles of the typical social media company. Once a day, during a random time, all Be Real users will be notified that they have 2 minutes to take a picture of what they are doing at that time. The picture is taken on the front and back camera to ensure that the ‘full picture’ is portrayed properly (no pun intended). Upon release, this concept was viewed as an avant-garde, revolutionary idea. Never before had anyone seen being real as a socially acceptable action, but now, there was an entire app to pay homage to it.
At the surface, this looked great, almost like a changing point for the next generation or society’s latest awakening. But, there was one driving question that urged me to dive deeper into this app: why? Why would any app ever want to not have the content on their platform be more addicting? Well, my next set of results were rewarding.
Before we continue, however, I would like to point to an SNL skit that was released on October 2, 2022, which pointed out the hypocrisy of BeReal in a comedic manner. Two robbers walk into a bank but during their robbery, all the hostages get the ‘Be Real’ notification. When they try to explain that they aren’t calling the police, one of the aggressors tells everyone to “shut up” while the more gullible one is worried that he is not up-to-date with the latest trend. When asked to explain the app, one of the bankers, still lying on the ground, says “It’s the only honest social media.” To which the inquiring robber responds, “Do you think I’m an idiot? Honest social media doesn’t exist!” However, by the time that everyone starts taking their daily post (don’t forget that there is still a robbery going on), this second robber is truly feeling the FOMO inching up on him bit by bit and ends up posing in a banker’s picture. Even the security guards are worried about losing their streak so they are glued to their phones and unmindful of the situation at hand.
And while this depiction of the new trend was slightly exaggerated, the addiction is a true problem. People seek approval from their digital acquaintances to be seen as an honest and truthful person, but what no one realizes is that this is the most unhonest and untruthful method to prove that.
Furthermore, Be Real still promotes curating your posts from some mythical world in which errors are nonexistent and true emotions fall into oblivion. This is proven by the app’s feature of being able to post your daily photos even after the 2 minute time slot has passed. The only difference is that these photos will be notified to your friends as a delayed post which is yet another issue. Now, you are pressured by those who influence you most, friends, to maintain your social status as someone who is truly being real and post during the Be Real time. If we leave all the issues presented previously on their own, they will layer atop one another until an absolute juggernaut of a social media platform arises, decimating the mental and physical health of young adults and redefining what ‘free time’ means to those in our generation, all for the worse.
I am not proposing that social media platforms should stop attempting to emphasize the importance of displaying reality instead of artificially curating your digital presence. All I am asking for is that they put a little bit more planning into how sustainable (and truthful) their solutions are. What was meant to be a redefining app for the technological world ended up becoming a monster that is out-of-control, only exacerbating the social media problem. These companies will do nothing unless we all stand up against these institutions who milk money out of the innocent while rotting their minds. If we, the younger generation, don’t speak out and defend ourselves, then no one will.