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.