Quenching MENA's social media mania: Is it time to BeReal?

Collage of a group of people using smart phones on colourful background - stock photo
6 min read
20 October, 2022
A new viral app, BeReal, has promised a less superficial social media experience. Will the company's success prove to be a fad, or symptomatic of a growing need for media authenticity? The New Arab takes a deep dive into the app and its Arab users.

Remember the early social media days of Facebook and Twitter, before they become absurd fake news platforms?

When social media was all about exchanging statuses about our remarkable life events and little moments in our daily lives like capturing an image of our morning coffee and captioning it with a deep quote by Nietzsche.

When we all got into social media back then, it was an exciting world, and even an act of rebellion for some to have an account on these platforms.

"No one can deny how vocal GenZers are about mental health issues, social problems, and overall worldviews. It seems that GenZers around the world are uniting to make online presence essentially humane, leading towards more authenticity and less perfection"

Those nostalgic days of navigating digital living and sharing our raw lives through flash-on, high colour-saturated images are quite over now.

After the rise of monetization of content, ad, and sponsorship, there is a price on every post.

Most of the content on our timelines is staged and very polished with proper lighting, slick design, and smooth filters. Somehow, everyone looks very neat, eating superior meals, wearing trendy clothes, and always hanging around astonishing scenery.

But, looking off the screen, and spending a moment in real life, you would quickly realize this curated online reel can not be real. Perhaps social media needs to come full circle, and it is this precise idea that BeReal envisions for the future of virtual communication. 

The concept of BeReal, the new popular social app is simply to oppose the mainstream social media culture by promoting the app as “the first social network where people spontaneously share their real life."

In about 18 months, BeReal users have grown from 10K to 10 million, this exponential growth can be explained by the appeal for honest social communication online. 

The way the app works is distinct – let's say there are many instructions to follow. Once the user signs up for the app, they will receive a notification with two alert badges urging them to “get real” within two minutes.

This feature can be entertaining at first, but imagine receiving an alert after having a meeting with your boss who just informed you that this is your last week at work, and it is BeReal o'clock at that same moment. 

Society
Live Story

The popularity of the app seems to be spreading rapidly. A few weeks ago, in a room full of people, each of our phones vibrated at the same time with the instruction to BeReal and take a selfie of our surroundings. 

The app encourages activity, so there is no way you can be lurking and silently watching other people without posting your moment. It gives the user two minutes to post one photo from the back camera and quickly another one from the front.

"Although the craze began in Europe and the US, more and more users in the MENA region are intrigued by the concept. In Cairo, someone posts a picture of them stuck in a traffic jam, in Sana’a, the city is full of green decorations on the streets, and in Beirut, there are selfies of toes and sand as it's still beach time"

To scroll through, the interface includes two tabs – one with your friends, which is retrieved through the contacts on the users’ phone – and the other tab is discovery, which is public. 

Seemingly, across all locations, people are living the same dull life. The majority of the stories are images of keyboards, screens, and pets. While the other half are simply normal life errands with props like a treadmill, a praying mat, and plates of food.

Although the craze began in Europe and the US, more and more users in the MENA region are getting intrigued by the concept. In Cairo, someone is stuck in a traffic jam, in Sana’a, the city is full of green decorations on the streets, and in Beirut, there are pictures of toes and sand as it's still beach time. 

The concept of promoting authenticity and rawness in online social networking has potential and a positive vision, “at some point you get tired of social media and the perfection you see in there, so this felt like a much-needed change,” says Sami Abd Elbaki, the Dubai based head of content in an advertising company.

Since the user’s contacts are under the “my friends” tab, the app experience makes it easier to catch up with what a small group of friends are doing more genuinely. “It creates a sense of privacy and intimacy,” Sami adds.

The massive craze over BeReal is similar to Tiktok and Clubhouse over the past two years.

The pandemic lockdown measures created an opportunity for new social media apps to enter the market. People were longing for human contact outside of their households, participating in challenges, and creating group chats about all kinds of topics.

Those two apps provided a slightly different and innovative networking experience and ultimately functioned as platforms to produce content and information. 

Perspectives

However, it is difficult to see how BeReal will compete in this market, for now. “Whatever the app is doing regarding sharing moments with close friends, you can achieve it in other platforms – users these days want to consume content," Doha-based creative director Ammar Alqamash highlights.

He also adds that the reaction feature is a throw-off as there does not seem to be a need to react and attach the number of interactions to genuine life stories.

This is a long-lasting debate in the world of psychological analysis and social media consumption. Especially, that research has perpetually shown results of susceptibility to anxiety and depression symptoms in young adults over the count of likes. 

BeReal was created in 2020 by Alexis Barreyat and Kevin Perreau who both graduated from university in 2017. The team behind the product is formed of a large number of GenZ fresh graduates, who are also the main target segment.

No one can deny how vocal GenZers are about mental health issues, social problems, and overall worldviews. It seems that GenZers around the world are uniting to make online presence essentially humane, leading towards more authenticity and less perfection.

Hala Al-Sadi carries a background in info-technology management and experience in media & cultural production. Currently, Hala works in the avenues of creative industries between digital design, journalism, and communication.

Follow her on Twitter: @halak404