Is Snapchat’s Latest Filter Racist?

Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Snapchat's many filters and face swaps are usually pure fun (flower crowns, alien heads, axe-wielding vikings!), but today's 4/20 filter goes too far. What at first seems innocent enough — a Bob Marley-themed image — quickly becomes disturbing. You can don Marley's trademark dreadlocks and Rasta Hat, sure. But the problem is what happens to your skin tone: The filter is clearly blackface. Blackface has resulted in numerous Halloween controversies for famous celebs, and Snapchat users have already noted the obvious insensitivity of the platform's new filter, which brings this offensive issue to the masses. In response to request for comment, a Snapchat spokeperson shared the following statement: "The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley's music, and we respect his life and achievements." Marley does deserve to be respected and appreciated, but this was not an effective way to do so. Anyone who's ever watched Comedy Central knows that with all humor, there's a very thin line between funny and inappropriate. This time, Snapchat erred on the wrong side of the spectrum. While the face-matching technology itself is impressive, perhaps a cartoony image would have been a better choice. Snapchat may have intended to use Bob Marley as a comedic celebration of the stoner holiday, but the effect feels more creepy — and insensitive. This instance shows the dangerous side of face swaps and filters. As they become increasingly popular and widespread (Facebook recently purchased its own face-swapping technology), both tech creators and users will need to be cautious and considerate when determining if something is comedic or offensive. Update: Kylie Jenner is coming under fire for using the controversial filter.

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