It was only just short of a year ago, in July 2022, that the photo-sharing app BeReal had a major breakout moment which pushed it to the top of the app store charts. Like most ‘rebellious’ social media platforms looking to disrupt the Meta monopoly, BeReal arrived with a refreshingly creative constraint: users were only given a once-a-day window to post, delivered at a different time each day via push notifications. What’s more is that users couldn’t see their friends’ posts unless they had posted themselves.
It was celebrated as the one social network that truly pushed us to create a less performative online persona, inviting users to post bits of their lives at its most mundane, rather than just the flashy parts. But BeReal faced a ticking clock, one that has since rang a couple of times.
In early April 2023, The New York Times reported that the app’s novelty had worn off among the app’s core gen Z demographic, leading to a steep decline in monthly users. “The number of people who use the app daily has dropped 61 per cent from its peak, from about 15 million in October to less than six million in March, according to Apptopia, another analytics firm,” wrote the publication.
Fast forward to today—well, to Monday 1 May to be exact—and BeReal is desperately attempting to claw its way back into the cold, cold hearts of gen Zers. How? By introducing yet another feature, only a week after a previous announcement was made about another unveiling.
Introducing RealPeople, what the app calls “a curated timeline of the most interesting people” to users in the UK. It will be available globally “very soon,” in case you had any interest in testing it. Before we even get into the details of what exactly this new feature will bring the loyal users who have stayed on the platform, it should be noted that its very name already sounds completely misaligned with the anti-influencer ethos that BeReal had promoted until now.
Announcing the upcoming feature, BeReal explained: “RealPeople isn’t about influencing, amassing likes and comments, or promoting brands. You won’t see perfect Photoshopped pictures, product recommendations, or ads disguised as posts.”
Instead, the app claims that RealPeople will be a combination of people you know and some you don’t, helping it promote the idea that influencers and celebrities are real people too who can also be boring, just like the rest of us. Right…
As mentioned before, the now-dying photo-sharing app had unveiled another ‘mind-blowing’ feature only a few days prior to this recent news. Dubbed Bonus BeReal—come on now, at least be more creative when it comes to naming them—the tool allows users to post an additional not one but two BeReals throughout the day, but only if you post your first during the allotted two-minute window.
In other words, it pushes users to post authentically once a day… and then share two more highlights where they can be as fake as they want. Understandably, the feature was not received very well. It’s painfully obvious to see how this addition only distracts from why users enjoyed the app in the first place—you only needed to go on it once a day.
BeReal also recently partnered with Spotify to allow users to share what song they’re listening to with their dual camera selfie. Yet another poor attempt at saving its last 6 million users if you ask me. Sadly for our nostalgia-prone selves, it seems like it’s no longer time to BeReal. Instead, it’s time to BeRelevant.
Picture this: You’ve just uploaded a cute selfie to your Instagram Story, left your phone alone for about ten minutes only to preemptively decide to pick it back up to check who’s seen or reacted to your latest post. Here, among the likes of your friends, exes and loosely related family members are a bunch of people you could swear you’ve never seen—or digitally interacted with—in your life.
“@caroline17jonerzp, @oldadur.awearelib7107, @ella.miller362peb and @vanessadowd698dpu liked your Story.” Wondering who they could be, you click on all four of these mystery admirers and discover that none of them has any followers. Worse, they don’t have any posts either.
If you’re young enough to be a somewhat new adopter of Instagram, then let me clarify one thing: these accounts are what some would call ‘spam’, ‘bot’ or ‘fake’ accounts. And just like I’ve recently witnessed on the app, if you post stories on a daily basis, they will pop up in your notifications every single time.
So what’s the deal with this and why are random, spammy-looking accounts obsessively watching your Instagram Story? I looked into it to bring you the top three theories dominating the internet.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. Let’s say you fell out with your bestie for whatever reason and noticed they had shared something on their Instagram Story. You’re curious, of course, and need to see what it is, but at the same time, you don’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that you’re still keeping up with their doings—you’ve got too much pride for that.
So you’re in a bit of a pickle, a catch-22 if you will. To openly watch or not to watch their Story? Well, according to what some Instagram experts have been saying online, you don’t have to pick. According to Hydrogen—the largest specialist social media agency in Scotland—the last couple of years saw a rise in tools which allow you to secretly view (and even download) people’s Stories without being logged in.
“A staple for ‘social media stalkers’, these sites ask you to put in the handle of the person whose Story you want to view, and allow you to see all Stories of that person… without being logged in. It then appears as if it’s been viewed by a bot account,” the agency explained.
Hydrogen, along with numerous other social media experts, also went on to claim that this influx in bot profiles watching randomers’ Stories might be linked to a bigger trend on the platform. According to their second theory, in a move to counter Instagram’s crackdown on bots and paid-for followers, small social media agencies are interacting with strangers’ Stories to make them seem less dodgy.
In their minds, if you see an account as having seen your Story, and if that individual’s profile seems similar to yours or shares a common interest—be it fashion, animals or fitness—then you’ll be more likely to follow them. This interaction will in turn indicate to Instagram that the bot account is actually legit, which it isn’t.
That’s the theory, anyway. In reality, you probably wouldn’t follow anyone with zero posts and zero followers. We’ve all watched far too many Netflix true crime documentaries to fall for that trick.
This hypothesis would also explain why you’re seeing random accounts voting on your Instagram Story polls. Certain apps—which I won’t be naming here for obvious reasons—promise potential customers that their “account will automatically interact and vote on thousands of stories per day (including polls and quizzes). It can result in up to 5,000 active followers per month!”
5,000 followers per month, right…
I kept the best speculation for last because I’m nice like that. Among the strange-looking accounts that have started interacting with your Stories, you might have noticed that most of them have their usernames in Cyrillic text—a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia.
As of 2019, around 250 million people in Eurasia use Cyrillic as the official script for their national languages, with Russia accounting for about half of them. TechCrunch’s very own director of events, Leslie Hitchcock, flagged the issue, complaining of “eerie” views on her Instagram Stories from random Russian accounts. Some seemed like genuine accounts (such as artists with several thousand followers) while others were simply “weird” looking.
However, that was back in 2019, and Instagram has since stated that it was aware of the issue, which eventually led it to its aforementioned crackdown on fake accounts. In other words, don’t believe the rumours circulating on Reddit that claim these Russian-looking profiles are spies sent by President Vladimir Putin. They’re just part of the new growth hacking tactic highlighted in point two.
It goes without saying that if your Instagram profile is public, anyone can find your Story. Specific services offer users the option of searching for Stories using hashtags, geo-tags, and even people who follow a specific account.
There are even options to target users based on how many followers they have. The more you know, right?