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Oh, No: Another Racist Filter From Snapchat

The lens exaggerated facial features associated with Asian caricatures, and users are not happy.

Oh, No: Another Racist Filter From Snapchat

Snapchat released a selfie filter that morphs anyone’s face into a caricature that exaggerates Asian stereotypes–and negative reactions have been swift. On Tuesday, users on Twitter called the filter “yellowface” and shared images of its effects, which emphasized red cheeks and nearly-closed eyes, before it was taken down.

One Twitter user called it “overly-racist,” and wondered, “when can we expect blackface?”

Sadly, that’s already happened. In April, the company released a filter that enabled users to don the Rastafarian dreadlocks and hat of Bob Marley–along with a darker skin color. Many users found it disrespectful, and described the filter as an instance “digital blackface.” The company responded by saying that it was created to celebrate Marley and his achievements (and had been created in collaboration with the Bob Marley Estate).

As The Washington Post‘s Caitlin Dewey pointed out at the time, many face-swapping apps have options that enable users to change their skin color. One popular filter, Face Swap Live, allows you to swap your face with celebrity visages, from Donald Trump to President Obama. But some users take issue with filters that tap into reductive, racist stereotypes or reinforce beauty norms that favor lighter skin color.

For now, only the screenshots remain as evidence of the filter. Snapchat told Co.Design that the lens was inspired by anime and was meant to be playful, and that it won’t be put back in circulation. But how long will it be before Snapchat releases another offensive feature? Based on its track record, it’s only a matter of time.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.



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