Snapchat’s Racial Filter Generates Yet Another Controversy
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Unless you’ve lived under a rock for your whole life, you’ve probably heard of the smartphone app Snapchat. At its simplest, it allows you to send photos and videos to fellow users who can view them for a set amount of seconds before they disappear. Snapchat has 800 million monthly active users and more than 100 million daily active users, so it’s a wildly popular app. Thus, any controversies that surround it are bound to grab the public’s attention.
With its lens tool, Snapchat allows its users to alter their faces and play with their expressions in ways that range from the hilarious to the absurd. You can turn your face into a pineapple, a puppy dog, and even more—all together, they generate more than 30 million enhanced selfies a day. However, these lenses have drawn criticism in the past. On April 20th, 2016, Snapchat added a lens that morphed users’ faces into Bob Marley, the late reggae music icon. Users overtook Twitter with accusations that Snapchat had created an offensive blackface filter.
This week, Snapchat introduced a lens that gave users slanted eyes, distorted buckeye teeth, and puffy cheeks. Some users called it a racist caricature of Asian people: “yellowface”. Snapchat eventually removed the lens.
Although Snapchat has declined to comment on similar controversies in the past, this time around, they offered an explanation. They stated that the lens was meant as homage to anime characters, not as an offensive caricature of Asian people. However, for users who have experienced racism, the lens intensified hurtful stereotypes that rendered Snapchat’s explanation rather unpersuasive. Other users were quick to reject the anime comparison as a weak attempt to cover up an offensive action.
Snapchat is not the first company to make these types of messy cultural missteps. Certain aspects of American media seem entangled in arguments and controversies about diversity and inclusion. #OscarsSoWhite is probably a hashtag that you recognize, as it gained a lot of traction and public discussion when the Academy Awards aired last February. These controversies generate questions that get asked time and time again. How much should American cultural mediums strive to create racial diversity and inclusion in their creations? What should we consider racially offensive or stereotypical? How do we create public awareness of these issues, and how do we amend them once solutions gain public support?
Some Snapchat users unwaveringly agree that the Asian filter was incredibly offensive and that Snapchat was right to remove it. Other users argue that people who aren’t of a particular race cannot decide what is and isn’t offensive to the racial group in question. No matter what side you’re on, it’s definitely important to have this discussion as our society strives to create racial diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life, and that includes the omnipresent media.