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BeReal app is Instagram's next rival for teens

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some teens are trying a new social media platform. It's called BeReal. The creators say it is a more authentic experience than, say, Instagram because of what is missing from the usual social media experience. There are no filters, no photo editing, no celebrities posting perfect photos and, also, no ads. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn reports why what's missing matters.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Marissa Omaque is an 18 year old in the San Francisco Bay area who has had it with Instagram.

MARISSA OMAQUE: For the longest time, I would always compare myself to, like, these influencers. Like, oh, how come, like, I can't be like that, you know? Like, I want to be like that, but I'll never, like, get on the same tier as them. It really does get to, like, a lot of people's brains.

ALLYN: So when Omaque heard about the French app BeReal, she was eager to try it out. Here's how it works. You only post once a day, when prompted. You have just 2 minutes to take a photo. The app snaps a selfie and whatever's in front of you at once, all without filters and unedited.

OMAQUE: When I'm on, BeReal, like, I'm not really expecting like, oh, I'm in Hawaii. I'm with my hot boyfriend. Like, I'm just kind of expecting, like, someone on their couch.

ALLYN: And that's often what it is, the mundane motions of life - people walking their dog, people staring at a computer, people eating lunch. Omaque's best friend, Khia Reddy, chimes in to say that so much of apps like Instagram and Snapchat feels like a performance, people bragging about vacations or cool parties or who they're hanging out with. On BeReal, there's less fear of missing out - a FOMO-free zone.

KHIA REDDY: We're not performing anymore. Most of the time, like, most of my BeReals are either me sitting at my desk doing homework or me at work.

ALLYN: That's refreshing to researchers who study social media's impact on child development. UCLA's Yalda Uhls says apps like Instagram and TikTok, where influencer culture thrives, can harm teens' mental health, with teens constantly comparing themselves to the bodies and styles of professional models.

YALDA UHLS: Social comparison is normal. Like, it's something that every teenager and every person needs to learn to know how to act in the world. But on social media, you know, it's social comparison on steroids.

ALLYN: Uhls says there are obviously plenty of ways to not be real on BeReal. It's social media, after all. But she says an app that pushes people to share photos of what they're really doing and what they really look like is a welcome development.

UHLS: I applaud anything that helps young people understand that a filtered approach to life is not an authentic and healthy approach to life.

ALLYN: Right now if you go to someone's BeReal profile, you can't see who they follow or how many followers they have. The profiles are totally blank - social media without a popularity contest. The app also doesn't have advertising.

Back in the Bay Area, Reddy wonders how BeReal can stay this way forever since, eventually, the app is going to have to figure out a way to make money. How will the app do that while also staying an intimate, chill place to share photos with friends?

REDDY: If there's, like, a feature where like celebrities start getting on the app, and they're like, oh, you can pay to see this celebrity's BeReal, I'm going to kind of, like, back away, I think, a little bit.

ALLYN: BeReal is trying to be a social media app to give everyone a break from social media apps. Silicon Valley sees it as maybe the next big thing. Already, the same venture capitalists who backed Instagram and Twitter are funding BeReal. Of course, there's another way to take a break from social media. Try logging off.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GABRIEL ERNESTO LOPEZ VALDEZ'S "CIELO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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