It’s Not Just BeReal That’s Over. It’s Social Media As We Know It

segunda-feira, 8 de maio de 2023


Photo: Getty Images

The other day, I decided to post on BeReal—probably a blurry close-up of my face—because I hadn’t opened the app in ages and wanted to see what everyone was up to. So I hit post and waited, and then… nothing. Nobody else had posted at all. It was just my own lo-fi image, staring back at me, completely unseen. In the space of a few weeks, BeReal had become a digital ghost town.

Clearly I’m not the only person to have tapped out of the once hotly tipped photo-sharing app. According to data from app intelligence firm Apptopia, BeReal’s daily active users nearly halved from October 2022 to February 2023, plummeting from 20 million to 10.4 million. Since then, the number of daily active users has declined even further, dropping to just under 6 million active users in March. The novelty of being real, it seems, has well and truly worn off.

Much could be said about why BeReal hasn’t stuck. It takes effort to keep up with, for starters. And it’s not just BeReal that appears to be flailing right now. Social media more generally seems to be in the midst of a massive identity crisis. Twitter users have been steadily declining since Elon Musk’s takeover in 2022 (with verified users losing their blue check marks this month, leading to further resentment and mistrust). Instagram has become passé among younger users. And, although hugely popular, TikTok still tends to only attract a certain kind of poster: those at ease with chatting to the camera, or not cringing at the many TikTok-isms that seem to have proliferated like a virus. (Why does everybody use the same disassociated TikTok voice?) If you’re sick of Twitter, for example, you’re not necessarily going to emigrate to TikTok. People who like to write don’t always like to talk.

To truly understand this shift, we need to consider how we used to use social media. In the past, there was only one prominent social media platform at any given moment. In ye olden days, it was MySpace. Then Facebook. Then Twitter or Instagram. Now it’s arguably TikTok. But our trust in these platforms has massively dwindled; we’re internet literate now. Think about how blindly people used Facebook even just 10 years ago, posting albums with names like “Freshers Week <333” with 236 digital images of college students puking and doing duck faces on nights out. With a greater awareness of how our internet histories, data, and online profiles are used against us in myriad ways, we don’t broadcast our lives so flagrantly anymore. We also know that these platforms don’t always stick around. Profiles get deleted. Data gets sucked into an online vortex. We’ll never mindlessly trust anything that comes out of Silicon Valley in the same way.

Against the backdrop of this growing mistrust and fatigue, there’s also been a sort of dispersal across different internet spaces recently. I know friends who only spend their time on Twitch or Discord now. I know others who treat Reddit as their “main” account, with no ties to their IRL persona. People are launching Substacks left, right, and center, weary of their content being lost on one of the bigger platforms. Hell, there are even people shitposting on Linkedin. And don’t underestimate the popularity of VR-based platforms like VRChat among the perennially plugged-in. Just as people might choose to shop at their nearest burger joint rather than grab McDonald’s every single time, the social media giants are—although still powerful—definitely losing some of their earlier shine.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes sense to gravitate towards apps that are more specifically focused on your own niche interests. If you’re more into gaming or DJing, then why do you need anything other than Twitch? If you’re a photographer, then why not stay on Instagram instead of creating awkward TikTok videos that look like PowerPoint presentations? If you’re a writer, surely it’s easier to just launch a Substack instead of spending years building a platform on Twitter, only for it to become overrun by right-wing trolls and a “For You” timeline that nobody asked for. We don’t have to remain beholden to tech billionaires who’ve conditioned us to rely on a single algorithm-based merry-go-round, or apps which have essentially become glorified ad spaces. Of course, many of us need to have an online “presence” for our work, but that presence needn’t be confined to a single precarious corner of the internet.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, that BeReal hasn’t exploded in the way we first thought it would. Despite the fact that it claimed to be different—more authentic, without filters, not yet overrun by brands—it wound up being just another platform that ate into our time and encouraged us to project a certain image. When I spoke to a friend about why she stopped using BeReal, she told me: “You end up just taking photos of yourself that make your life look interesting, like you would on Stories or whatever. If I want to keep up with friends, I’ll just message them.” BeReal is different, yes, but perhaps it’s not different enough.

After posting my face on BeReal for the benefit of absolutely nobody, I decided to delete the app from my phone. Who was it for? I still use Twitter sparingly for work, but even that feels pointless when views depend on the algorithm, and it’s run by a guy who changes the app’s functionality every week and can’t launch a rocket into space without it exploding into a million pieces seconds later.

There’s no predicting what the future holds for our social media use—history has shown us that our digital behaviors unfurl in strange and unexpected ways. But whatever it looks like, it won’t look like this for much longer.

Via Vogue