What is Instagram competitor BeReal, and is it safe for your kids?

BeReal app

As its name suggests, BeReal is an app meant to encourage users to be real and authentic, but how does it work, and why is it so popular right now?

What is BeReal?

At its core, BeReal is a photo-sharing mobile app with a twist. Once a day, the app sends a push notification with the message “Time to BeReal” flanked by two yellow warning sign emojis. This signals a two-minute window for users to log in and snap a photo of whatever they’re doing at that moment in time. BeReal sends these push notifications at different times each day, so you can’t prepare something photogenic in advance.

BeReal notification
Source: BeReal.

Unlike other social media apps, BeReal doesn’t feature filters or any form of retouching tools, so what you see is what you get. There are no follower counts, too, meaning it isn’t an app made for amassing popularity. Although you can choose to share a post publicly, everything is private by default, viewable only to friends you have added in the app. Another quirk is that the photos you take for BeReal use both the selfie and rear cameras to capture you and what you’re doing simultaneously.

If you miss the two-minute window, you can still take and upload a picture that day. However, the image you use will be labelled late, notifying your friends as well. You won’t be able to view any of your friends’ uploads that day until adding your own photo – no lurking! Once the next day’s push notification goes out, only you can view your previous posts, so you can’t catch up on your mates’ previous photos if you missed a few days.

Why has BeReal become popular all of a sudden?

While it may seem BeReal has appeared out of nowhere, it’s not an overnight success. Founded in France, the app launched in early 2020, so why is it topping download charts two years later?

A combination of factors points to BeReal’s belated success. Firstly, many users are disillusioned with the current direction of Instagram, the Meta-owned social media app. Recent changes to Instagram have seen its focus shift from photos to videos in the form of Reels, the app’s attempt to follow TikTok. That, and a feed dictated by an algorithm that shows more content from brands and people you don’t follow than your friends. BeReal only shows posts from friends or people you choose to follow; a significant appeal over Instagram’s current direction.

BeReal photo
Source: BeReal.

It’s proven to be popular with Gen Z users, who are happy to have separate video and photo sharing platforms. Additionally, the lack of editing options and airbrushed influencers means there’s less pressure to share the perfect image among friends. The specified window for posting also encourages people to be on the app at the same time, instead of mindlessly scrolling feeds throughout the day. Currently, BeReal features no in-app advertising, another benefit for users escaping other apps filled with product endorsements.

Does BeReal have any privacy or security concerns?

Experts are divided on BeReal’s privacy and security. Dr Christopher Moore, a Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Wollongong, told the Illawarra Mercury the app’s lack of direct monetisation could be a red flag for data concerns.

“There’s no basis for influencer sponsorship, advertising, that’s not there,” Dr Moore said. “I’m wondering if they’re not making money from users, they’re probably harvesting data.”

“For me, that’s screaming facial recognition.”

Conversely, Tama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies at Curtin University, doesn’t believe BeReal presents additional risks when compared to other social media apps. In an interview with The Feed, he mentioned that the main worry for users is if BeReal starts including ads after building a large user base.

One piece of advice to follow – and it’s relevant to any social media platform – is to be wary of sharing your location. Similar to the Snap Map feature in Snapchat, you can choose to share your location when uploading a photo. As specified on the BeReal FAQ site, the app will show where the photo was taken with friends, but publicly shared posts only show a “rough location”. It’s an entirely opt-in feature you can toggle with each post, or enable/disable at a system level on your device. Considering the time-based nature of BeReal, the safest option would be to refuse location permissions in the first place.

BeReal memories
Source: BeReal.

Overall, BeReal owes its current popularity to a simple, minimalist approach while competing apps try – and fail – to be everything to everyone. For now, it doesn’t appear to pose any dangers not already associated with social media use. Arguably, its ad-free, authentic focus is a healthier alternative for younger users than other apps at the moment. However, it’s important to remain vigilant and keep an eye on BeReal to monitor its strategy going forward.

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