When the BeReal bell rings during class, what happens?
If you swipe to the “Discover” tab of BeReal — the photo-sharing app that prompts users to share unfiltered pictures once a day — you can see strangers’ public posts. Chances are, if you look, you’ll find teenager after teenager at school or in class. According to the consumer data platform data.ai, over 40% of BeReal’s 12-and-up iPhone user base in the United States is between 16 and 24 years old.
BeReal first started getting attention on college campuses in early 2022 and has since exploded in popularity. According to data.ai, the photo-sharing app surpassed 10 million downloads in May 2022. By the time class was back in session for the 2022-2023 school year, BeReal had solidified itself in the social media ecosystem, becoming so mainstream that Saturday Night Live did a sketch about it.
But the app wasn’t immediately on most high school teachers’ radars. “We have teacher meetings at the beginning of the year, but they weren’t like ‘here’s the cell phone policy, make sure you look out for BeReal because kids are going to be really distracted by this notification,'” shared 30-year-old Andrew Koons, a science teacher at a high school in Vienna, Virginia. “Most of my colleagues are older than me, and that’s not something they’re thinking about.”
BeReal is designed to be more authentic than traditional social media, though whether it actually is is up for debate. It sends out a push notification once a day and gives users a two-minute window to post one photo of themselves and what they’re doing, using their phone’s front and back cameras. While you can post after the two-minute window, you can’t view other people’s posts until you post, and the app advertises how late you took your BeReal.
The pressure to post your BeReal on time poses a unique challenge to teachers whose students want to use the app as intended. Because the notification goes off at a different time every day, it’s also a game of chance. Natasha Lelchuk, a 29-year-old who teaches ninth and tenth grade English in South El Monte, California, has been lucky so far. “[BeReal] hasn’t been particularly disruptive. I have BeReal on my phone too, and I haven’t seen the notification go off during the school day very often,” Lelchuk tells Mashable. “I don’t see kids constantly pulling out their phones to take a BeReal.” Lelchuk’s school has a no-phones-in-class policy, but it varies teacher to teacher. Lelchuk enforces a no-phone policy with her freshmen, but is more lenient with her sophomore honors English students.
As the app has become more popular, its purpose has evolved. Now some people ignore the time constraints and post only when they’re doing something cool, and then re-post their favorite BeReals on other social media platforms, like TikTok and Instagram. A culture of getting unwitting people to take your BeReal has also developed. Users ask strangers to take their photo without the stranger knowing that they too will be photographed.
The combination of the app’s popularity among teenagers, its immediacy, and the desire to get clueless older people involved would seem to indicate that the app would be disruptive in the classroom. However, many schools haven’t run into problems thanks to their strict phone policies, which include phones being kept out of sight on campus or in the classroom, or collected before each class. Mariam Omar is an on-site substitute teacher at one such high school in Los Angeles, California. “My school has a strict no-phone policy, so BeReal hasn’t been an issue,” Omar told Mashable.
Even then, BeReal notifications can disrupt class. “Our school has a policy that phones are collected at the beginning of class, but students will get the notification on their Apple Watches sometimes and panic about missing it,” Marina Francis, a 22-year-old high school teacher in Los Angeles, California, told Mashable. But compared with other apps that bombard users with notifications all day, BeReal isn’t as distracting. And sometimes, if the notification goes off on Friday, Francis will indulge her students and let them take their BeReal during class.
Virginia teacher Koons made the game-time decision to allow his AP Environmental Science students to take their BeReals during class. “During maybe the second week of school, the BeReal notification went off, and I decided that it’s not something that I’m going to get really stressed about,” Koons told Mashable. His school’s policy is that phones should be out of sight unless they are being used for class. “I made an exception for BeReal, because in my mind, it’s two minutes of distracted time. It’s not like someone is going to take their BeReal, and then 45 minutes later, another student is going to make a big deal about BeReal again.”
BeReal hadn’t been discussed in an official capacity at the schools of any of the teachers Mashable spoke to. “There has been some chatter among other teachers, but I’m the youngest teacher on campus, so I might be the only one who actually uses it,” explained Francis. “Some are confused about what it is. It hasn’t really been all that much of an issue on campus, though, because of the collecting phones policy.” Lelchuk similarly bets that 85 percent of her colleagues don’t know what BeReal is.
By and large, BeReal gets an A in the books of the teachers Mashable spoke to. Koons sees in-class BeReals as a way for his students to connect what they’re learning in the classroom with something that’s important to them: social media. “If they share a discussion or lab that we’re doing in AP Environmental Science or biology, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing,” said Koons. The culture of having an outsider take your BeReal has also brought students and teachers together. Koons, Francis, and Lelchuk had all been asked by their students to be in their BeReals and obliged. “One of my students told me that she felt like she bonded with me through it because I let her take a BeReal with me,” shared Lelchuk.