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Why teens are choosing the app BeReal over Instagram

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Teens trying to escape the constant barrage of advertising and celebrities on Instagram have found a new place to go. It's called BeReal. And as the name suggests, it's trying to create a more authentic social media experience - no filters, no editing. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn looks at how BeReal is trying to reinvent the way young people connect with friends.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Marissa Omaque is a 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 two 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 a 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 the celebrities' 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.

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