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Snapchat, the social media messaging app, offers filters that users can overlay on top of their own photos, to alter their appearance. While many of these filters are marketed as humorous, several have been accused of being culturally insensitive and racist. On April 20, 2016, a day also known as ‘420,’ a number associated with marijuana use, Snapchat offered a one-day Bob Marley filter. The filter made users’ skin darker, gave them dreadlocks, and a Bob Marley style cap. A number of users complained that the filter was in effect ‘digital blackface’ and insulting as it trivialized Marley as a ‘stoner.’ Snapchat defended the filter saying it was done as a tribute to Bob Marley’s music with the permission of his estate. Just a few months later in August 2016, Snapchat released another filter that gave users slit eyes and contorted facial features. This filter was quickly accused of digital yellowface. After many complained, Snapchat removed the filter, which it said was ‘anime-inspired.’ Snapchat has also been criticized for its ‘beauty’ filter which makes eyes bigger, but noses and faces slimmer. Many say it reinforces Western standards of beauty.

discussion

Have you ever used any of these Snapchat filters? Why or why not?

How do you feel when you see these or other Snapchat filters?

Do Snapchat filters change or shape one's identity? What is the impact of these changes?

Snapchat has said that these “lenses are meant to be playful and never to offend.” What do you think of their justification? Do you think digital tools like this are ‘innocent’? Why or why not?