The Stress Of Online Presence


BeReal has been around since 2020, but it wasn’t until 2022 that the app skyrocketed in popularity. I vividly remember my sophomore year roommate asking me to randomly pose when we were in the room together. However, our pictures never occurred at the same time every day. It always ended up occurring randomly, sometimes at the worst possible moments (like in the middle of a three-hour lab!).

Let’s be real, most of us know the premise of BeReal. The app allowed friends and connections to “be real” with each other, being encouraged to post a snapshot within two minutes of their life at random times every day to push back against the trend of having a seemingly larger-than-life social media presence. With this presence, you only should post the things that make you look like you’re having fun (even if you’re not), and you should only post after picking the perfect photos, using the best filters, reorganizing the photo order for 30 minutes, and then spending another 10 minutes picking the right caption (knowing you’ll edit it after it uploads anyway).

BeReal was so popular that even if you didn’t have the app, you knew when it was time to take the daily picture. In public, people would get their notification at the same time, pulling out their phones simultaneously and telling their friends the news. On TikTok, popular videos included users showing off when BeReal would go off during a concert, festival, or big event. It came to a point where the media managers of the official BeReal TikTok account were interacting with user content, liking and commenting on videos where users posted their hopes that BeReal would go off at a certain time that day in time for their special event. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t! But 2022 has come and gone, and I’ve noticed that people aren’t as excited to “be real” as they used to be. In fact, some friends I know see the notification and just skip it altogether. So, what happened?

“make instagram casual again”

The spike in popularity with BeReal came from a media movement that began in 2020, “Make Instagram casual again.” As I mentioned prior, Instagram has transformed from its earliest days of posting inspirational quotes and Starbucks drinks. Now, everyone wants engagement. Not enough likes make you feel lesser, and even with the hide likes feature, now not enough comments make you feel bad, too. An easy Google search of the best time to post on Instagram will flood your search results with infographics of every possible news and media outlet’s understanding of the Instagram algorithm. For many, every Instagram post has to be carefully thought out, especially if you’re not particularly fond of taking photos often or attending high-energy social events constantly. When Instagram revealed upcoming changes to the app in 2022, casual users and influencers alike fired back at Instagram once more, stating the app was being too influenced by TikTok and ruining the algorithm so users would get no engagement with their posts and rarely see the posts of people they follow.

Throughout the 2010s, many Instagram users created “finstas,” casual Instagram accounts where they could post to their close friends, rant about anything, and upload random photos from their lives. In 2020, users started posting more casually, labeling unedited or unflattering posts with “Make Instagram casual again.” On a particular weekend in 2020, users stuck in quarantine flooded each other’s feeds with random photos: baby photos, silly group photos, embarrassing photos, or anything chaotic and unexpected from a typical Instagram post. These posts were captioned “until tomorrow,” encouraging followers to also take part in the trend and post an unusual photo and leave it up for the next 24 hours. However, all of these habits and trends have since fallen off, leaving users back to their same old routines. Then enters BeReal. According to their TikTok, nothing felt better than BeReal “changing people’s toxic perspectives of themselves and feel secure about posting unedited pictures of themselves again.” The longer BeReal stayed popular, however, the less it stopped “being real.”


Remember when I mentioned how badly people wanted (and sometimes asked BeReal by mentioning them in their videos) the notification to go off at their special event? At first, users would be pleasantly surprised when BeReal happened to go off when they were doing something exciting or crazy, but otherwise, nobody cared too much. Toward the end of its peak, TikTok users would use the screen record feature to show viewers the lengths they would go to capture the “perfect” BeReal. Friends would run across the city to capture the sunset, people would rush to retake the “selfie” part of the picture because they thought they looked bad, and many users would end up posting their BeReals late. Although the app explicitly points out pictures that users uploaded late, people weren’t penalized for it, and ultimately no one cared that much.

The unfortunate thing was that BeReal started becoming Instagram again, minus the filters, editing capabilities, and the obligation to post daily. You are allowed to retake a picture as much as you wanted within the time limit, and with the friends feature on a curated feed, everyone wanted to impress each other for their own personal purposes. People were, once again, going out of their way to show others that they looked good, felt good, and were doing fun, interesting things no matter what time of day. TikTok users, my friends, and even I admit sometimes I would get out of bed or purposely change my location to pretend I was doing more than laying in bed. If you’re really lucky, you would get the BeReal notification multiple times a week while laying in bed.


If multiple posts laying in bed sound interesting, imagine being the user looking back at their own feed, seeing a plethora of “real” photos. Everyone always talks about the side of Instagram where people only post when they look good, feel good, or are doing exciting things. You want to assume that people who don’t post don’t think they look good, feel good, or aren’t doing fun things. However, that’s the opposite of true. 

One thing I learned about when entering college was protecting your peace. I especially learned this between my freshmen and junior years. You’re allowed to romanticize your life! Watching your favorite movie in bed after a long day, cooking a simple but delicious pasta dish in your kitchen, or reading a book quietly on your porch are all things that you might find fun. Social media constantly drives the idea of “fun” into our heads, yet the idea of fun only being always with friends (and lots of them), partying or traveling, or spending money is never everyone’s idea of fun. Even if you do have the most fun doing these things, it’s impossible to do them all the time. I’ve learned that things like these can lose their value when over-experienced.

So, maybe BeReal always goes off when you’re casually enjoying yourself, no matter what that may be. When you look at a feed full of the same pictures of you in bed or at work, though, you start to feel less fine. The little victories and sources of happiness you nurture each day start to feel less important, and you may find yourself attributing yourself to how your day looks at these random two-minute intervals.

At the end of the day, there are always going to be people who care about what they post and people who don’t. We’re all entitled to posting things that we want and showing off things that make us feel good, whether that be a concert that happened years ago, a third set of graduation photos in a week, or a cake that you were just really proud of making. Instagram may never be “casual” again, and BeReal may be slowly dying off, but let this be a lesson for all of us. If we want to be real, that’s great, and if we want to be even a bit fake and over-exaggerate our fun, that’s great too. We shouldn’t need a new trend to encourage us on what we should and shouldn’t post. Just be you!

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