“Realness” on social media is unattainable


Most teenagers understand that social media is highly manipulated, prompting us to seek out apps that promote authenticity, or at the very least advertise themselves as such. Consider the case of BeReal. It’s been dubbed the “anti-Instagram” because it allows users to send an unfiltered selfie from their front and back cameras in under two minutes. It publicly discloses how many times users retake their photos and how long they wait after receiving the notification before taking the photos – a modern-day public flogging of those who did not Be Real that day. However, revealing authenticity is more difficult than creating a metric system for it, let alone through an app.

So, why bother trying to be authentic on social media in the first place? As people become more aware of the harmful artifice in brand and celebrity advertisements, they are more likely to evaluate the “authenticity” of internet facades with whom they may have formed parasocial relationships. It’s no longer fashionable for creators to flaunt their wealth; instead, being humble, casual, and, most importantly, genuine is considered better taste. We’ve all fallen prey to the omnipotence that masquerades as authenticity.

The internet, on the other hand, is a static inventory of words, pictures, and moving pictures that tends to dilute nuance into “good” or “bad” and “real” or “fake.”

BeReal, while claiming to be the anti-Instagram, has the same flattening effect on its users as other social media platforms. Aside from the lack of filters, it provides users with a great deal of control over the timing, framing, and audience of their photos, making it similar to “casual Instagram,” a popular section of the app that markets itself similarly through its low-effort and blurry “photo dump” trend.

Whereas it is now widely acknowledged that this genre of social media is still performative due to the extra steps taken to ensure one’s candidness, BeReal subtly renders “realness” an aesthetic in which one may choose to participate or abstain at any time. It reduces the concept of authenticity to the level of a number, further simplifying and distorting it.

It almost seems natural to want to show off the “casual” side of our lives alongside the more glamorous: it reassures others, and perhaps ourselves, that our digital identities aren’t entirely fabricated. We strive to be perceived as authentic rather than simply being authentic for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it’s a natural reaction to our concerns about our deteriorating sense of self in this fast-paced information age, or it could simply be that we feel left out when all of our friends are doing it.

Personally, it’s a mix of the two, and I’m not immune to succumbing to certain personas or aesthetics in my disaggregated online presence. While the internet cannot facilitate authenticity, it does not preclude us from discussing important aspects of our lives. Perhaps we should reconsider why we are so concerned with proving our authenticity, which is inherent in our existence.