Constructing 'Liveness' on Social Media to establish 'Authenticity'- BeReal, a case study
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This thesis builds both on television and new media studies to examine the French social media app BeReal as a case study to investigate how ‘liveness’ is used and operates to establish a feeling of ‘authenticity’ for users. With reference to earlier television-based approaches to ‘liveness,’ as well as more recent studies on social media, I situate the app in its socio-political context of a highly commercialized social media environment. Subsequently, I examine how BeReal constructs ‘liveness’ in a manner that serves to create uniqueness next to other platforms, such as Instagram or TikTok, by generating ‘authentic’ online encounters between users. To do so, media scholar Karin Van Es’ approach of understanding ‘liveness’ as a constellation that is constructed through the interplay of the domains of institution, technology, and users will serve as a framework for my understanding of the concept in relation to BeReal. Based on this three-folded dynamic of ‘liveness,’ this thesis argues that the mainstreaming of curating profiles, editing images, and monetization practices on social media increasingly put the credibility of shared content into question, hence also causing a shift in the composition of ‘liveness’ with the relevance of establishing ‘authenticity’ through ‘live’ content distinctively enhancing. Thus, in contrast to Van Es and other prior studies, which identify ‘authenticity’ as a secondary component within the construction of ‘liveness’ in social media, this thesis claims that BeReal’s use of ‘liveness’ is decisively entangled with notions of facilitating more transparency and intimacy between users, hence positioning the construction of ‘authenticity’ as one of the main purposes of ‘liveness.’ Since this altered focus of ‘liveness’ demands a re-evaluation of the concept, I introduce ‘authentic liveness’ as a contemporarily fitting term for this phenomenon. To prove this argument, the analysis is structured according to Van Es’ methodological approach of examining the app’s metatext, space of participation, and user responses to identify how BeReal constructs ‘authentic liveness.’ The first analytical chapter thus examines how the metatext, embodied by the app’s official website, the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, as well the founder’s LinkedIn profile, externally frame ‘liveness’ in relation to the app. The second and main analytical section deconstructs the app’s participatory space by focusing on how the techno-cultural forces on the user interface, as well as legal and economic forces, navigate user activity on the platform by merging characteristics of ‘authenticity’ with ‘liveness.’ Lastly, the third analytical chapter investigates user responses collected on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to examine how users understand ‘liveness’ in the app.