can true authenticity be achieved online?

Its official… influencers are out and authenticity is in! It seems as though we have entered a new era of social media. One that embraces ‘photo dumps’ and messy feeds, rather than carefully curated photos and face-tune. Finally, it feels like social media actually wants us to be our most authentic selves – or does it? Yes, is undeniable that it is far more enjoyable to see people a take relaxed approach to social media, however, we have to ask ourselves is how genuine is this new era of authenticity. Or, are authenticity and vulnerability simply the latest forms of social currency online.

Our current obsession with ‘being real’, has resulted in a shift in our online presence. Today, celebrities are praised for showing their imperfections, however, they were previously encouraged to maintain an untouchable facade. There is a clear difference between the ‘it girls’ from the early 2000s and the ‘it girls’ of today, and it boils down to one thing: their perceived authenticity.  BeReal and TikTok appear to be the main apps dominating this era of social media, and their popularity amongst young people has not gone unnoticed. In August 2022, it was noted that BeReal had 10 million daily users and TikTok had over 200 million active users. Both of these apps encourage their users to be themselves, despite their imperfections, and their popularity amongst young people shows our craving for authenticity online.

izq. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen with Megan Fox in ‘Holiday in the Sun’ / dcha. Emma Chamberlain vía Instagram

By now, I think most of us have heard of BeReal. If you are unaware of the premise, once a day BeReal users receive a random notification and have a two minute window to post a photo of whatever they are doing. The app, which has been dubbed as the ‘antidote to Instagram’, does not allow you to put filters on nor edit photos. BeReal claims to provide a unique way to ‘discover who your friends really are in their daily life’. However, despite the app’s emphasis on authenticity, people have still found ways to make it an inauthentic experience. Many people I know are waiting for socially acceptable times to be real — kind of defeating the purpose of the app. Instead of posting as soon as the dreaded ‘its time to BeReal!’ notification comes through, many wait until they look ‘acceptable’, are in a social setting or are doing something ‘worth sharing’. While yes, this has led to the joke amongst many of my friends: ‘I am not being real’ – which demonstrates a level of self awareness of our inauthenticity, it has ultimately raised the question as to whether can true authenticity be achieved online. If Bereal is supposedly the ‘anti-Instgram’, why do we still we still care about the way we are perceived? Or, why do we have the option to engage and show our approval of our friend’s BeReals with our ‘Real Emojis’ (which are obviously BeReal’s answer to Instagram likes). 

Be Real memes vía Vulture

For many, BeReal is evidence that this era of authentic online is actually an era of ‘curated authenticity’, where our most casual moments are still picture perfect.  The trend ‘Instagram but make it BeReal’, unfortunately shows that even our supposed mundane moments should still be socially acceptable to be seen by a wider audience. Let’s actually be real for a second. Does BeReal feel more natural and authentic than Instagram? Yes. Does BeReal also contribute to culture that is similar to one found on Instagram? Also yes. 

A similar fake authenticity is also found on Tiktok. TikTok is one of the bigger offenders of this new era of social media. The app makes you feel like anyone can become famous, which is true to a certain extent. Yes, no one can deny that there is a lot of diversity and creativity on the platform, however, the app also provides economic and social benefits to being ‘authentic’ – making TikTok a friendly face for performance online. While I don’t think TikTok is anywhere near as dangerous as Instagram, there are still many overlaps in the way in which both apps reward fake authenticity. Both platforms ultimately give higher exposure to those that are living in a way that is nice to look at – whilst ignoring their social and economic privileges. The regular Tiktok user to micro influencer pipeline shows, if your lifestyle looks both attainable and  aesthetically interesting, you can achieve some level of success online – ultimately making  Tiktok the poster child of curated authenticity.

@uraestheticportfolio vía Instagram

If anything, this new era of ‘authenticity’’ on social media allows comparison culture to mutate into its most dangerous form. It can make people feel bad about their everyday lives. Before, we took comfort in knowing that the lives of influencers were fake, however now the lines are more blurred. We are subtly told that some people have such desirable lives that can be captured at any moment, whereas others have to wait. We have to acknowledge that authenticity in itself is a social construct and whatever the scenario, people want to always appear as the best version of themselves – especially online. 

@ginneynoa vía Instagram

Its true that social media will never be a truly authentic experience, however, maybe knowing this is the key to actually enjoying social media. At the end of the day, yes social media is fake but that shouldn’t stop you from posting what you want, when you want – or, posting nothing at all! Maybe the solution is embracing the fakeness or maybe there is no solution at all, but at the end of the day, as long as you’re happy with what you post who cares. 

Joelle Bello