Snapchat apologizes for tone-deaf Juneteenth filter

Snapchat has apologized after releasing a Juneteenth camera filter that prompted users to “smile” to break the chains of slavery. The filter was criticized by users on Friday morning shortly after its release and was disabled a few hours later.

Users who tried out the Lens expressed revulsion at the filter, which was designed for the June 19th US holiday to celebrate the liberation of people who had been enslaved in the country. The Juneteenth filter featured the Pan-African flag in the background and triggered an animation of the chains of slavery breaking if users gave a smile.

“This is what happens when you don’t have any Black people on the product design team,” said former Snap employee Ashten Winger.

Snapchat apologized for releasing the feature hours later. A spokesperson for the company told the Hollywood Reporter that “a diverse group of Snap team members” was behind the Juneteenth filter concept, but clarified that “a version of the Lens that went live for Snapchatters this morning had not been approved by [its] review process.”

Atlanta-based digital strategist Mark S. Luckie demonstrated the filter on Twitter, calling it “interesting.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a Snapchat filter has gone badly awry. In 2017, it honoured International Women’s Day by offering filters of famous women like Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, and Marie Curie, but added smoky eye makeup and a face “thinning” effect to the Curie filter. It had two misfires with filters in 2016: it released a Bob Marley filter in honour of 4/20 that put users’ selfies in what many users felt amounted to digital blackface, and later that year made an anime-inspired filter that created “yellowface” caricatures of Asians.

For the Juneteenth filter, Snapchat published a public apology on Twitter, writing, “We deeply apologize for the offensive Juneteenth Lens. The Lens that went live hadn’t been approved through our review process. We are investigating so this doesn’t happen again.”

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