This sketch does a great job explaining what BeReal is, but we’ve seen your comments on our Out Tech the Kids Facebook page and know you have questions about its safety for kids (or more accurately, teens, since this is an app for kids ages 13+.) BeReal may have launched in France back in 2019, but it hasn’t gotten really big in the U.S. until this year, so it’s a great time to be learning about this photo-sharing and social media app that is pretty different from Snapchat and TikTok.
Top photo, left, © Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks; right, by Mukul Joshi via Unsplash
How does BeReal Work?
As the name suggests, BeReal asks users to provide a once-a-day snapshot of what someone is doing at a specific moment in time: In other words, to “be real” and not take time to stage a photo. Filters or editing options are also not a thing, unlike Instagram where everyone looks like either a part-time model or world traveler. Sometimes both.
(One of our Facebook commenters said her teen calls Instagram, “Be Fake”. LOL)
To keep the pictures as spontaneous as possible, the BeReal app sends an alert at a random, always-different time of the day. Users have only two minutes to take a selfie and forward facing picture that is uploaded to their followers. But don’t worry: You set your broad geographic region when you upload the app so that alerts aren’t going off at 2am U.S. time; but they can go off roughly between 7am-midnight as I noticed recently that my notification woke me right around 12am. Ugh.
What makes BeReal kind of fun and different is that tiny window into what everyone’s doing at the same moment. It’s cool to see that one friend might be at the store, another is watching a movie, and someone else is eating ramen. Feeds are refreshed daily so the app encourages users to check in at least once a day to see what their friends have posted.
But, if you miss your “window” because you were napping, in class, driving a car, in the shower, etc, you can still take a later photo provided it’s within the same day. Your photo will indicate that it was taken late but that’s no biggie–there’s no “BeReal police” out there. Note that you won’t be able to view anyone else’s photos until you upload your own picture though.
How to be “social” on BeReal
Image © Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks
Users react to their friends’ BeReal photos through something called RealMojis which pair an emoji with a selfie, as shown above. Friends can also leave comments on posts but there is no private direct messaging or commenting from anyone who isn’t a friend.
And unlike other social media apps, you can’t see how many followers someone else has. That’s a nice way to keep this from becoming a popularity contest.
I find BeReal to be much less of a time-suck than other social media platforms. After I’ve left my reactions on the accounts I follow, there’s not much else to do here but go on with my day—unlike TikTok or Instagram which can burn real time from my day without me even noticing. But, teens who have hundreds of friends may spend more time reacting to those posts.
Not surprisingly, due to the rapid growth of BeReal, TikTok and Instagram are also testing out “BeReal”-like capabilities in an effort to keep up with the popularity of this newcomer.
Is BeReal safe for kids?
There is, however, a “Discovery” tab that lets them peek at what people are doing all over the world. Scrolling this feed is like flipping through a bunch of random pictures with only a couple of truly interesting photos jumping out. Inappropriate photos can easily be reported, though I have yet to see anything I would have any concern over my kids seeing.
I do worry though that BeReal will start accepting videos which could change how I feel about this app a lot.
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Tip to keep safe on BeReal
Image © Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks
Depending on the age of your child and/or your own comfort with the app, here are some of my tips to keep everyone safer on this app:
- When you or your child sets up the app, make sure the privacy setting is set to “My Friends” so that their photos don’t end up as part of the public “Discovery” feed.
- If the app was already downloaded, you can reset sharing from “public” to “My Friends” only. You cannot, however, go from a private feed to public, so you can be assured that your kids can’t change their settings back.
- Turn off location data so that it’s not posted with the photo.
- Have a conversation about the Discovery area and what to do if your child sees something disturbing or obscene. I’ve scrolled quite a bit and have not seen anything upsetting, but there are tabs for reporting a photo as either “inappropriate” or “undesirable”. Most photos are pretty boring.
- Remind your kids that the app takes both selfies AND forward facing photos at the same time. Make sure anyone in the shot has consented to be photographed and be aware of mirrors or computer screens that may be captured in the snap.
- Please note that photos can be screenshot, so any photo can become part of someone else’s permanent record.
- Remind them that BeReal’s notifications are not alarm bells! If they are in the middle of class or a sports practice (or on the toilet!), they should not pull out their photo to take a picture. BeReal, like any other social media app, can wait.
In a world of photo filters and follower counts, BeReal does feel like a breath of fresh air, though it is still a social media app. My advice for parents is to try it out themselves along with their teens and keep the conversation open. With other apps also testing this same format, it seems like this “realness” may get more popular with time and not less.