The controversial AR face filter, which asked users to 'smile' to break the chains, faced backlash on social media.
Snapchat released an augmented reality (AR) filter on the occasion of 'Juneteenth', and was left red-faced over accusations of racism. 'Juneteenth' is short for June the nineteenth, which is the day that slaves received emancipation in the USA. The filter asked users to ‘smile’ after which, a virtual chain appeared on the screen and broke itself.
Snap Inc. is claiming that the filter did not go through its usual review protocols, and was disabled by the company shortly after its release.
“We deeply apologise to the members of the Snapchat community, who found this 'Lens' offensive,” a company spokesperson said in an email to The Verge.
“A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing the concept, but a version of the 'Lens' that went live for 'Snapchatters' had not been approved through our review process. We are investigating why this mistake occurred so that we can avoid it in the future.”
The Verge report mentions that the team that is responsible for developing AR lenses for Snapchat is based out of Ukraine, and that they may not be familiar with the nuances of American culture and attitudes.
A source mentioned that Black Snapchat employees were involved in the filter’s creation, but did not see the final version of the filter – which included the chain breaking.
This isn't the first time Snap Inc. has come under fire for racist/insensitive face lenses. In 2016, Snapchat announced a lens in honour of (the late Jamaican musician) Bob Marley on April 20, and it was called out for being the digital version of Blackface - complete with dark complexion and dreadlocks.
Later that year, Snapchat was also criticised for releasing an 'Anime-inspired' lens that included 'yellow face' features, like narrow eyes, a small nose, rosy cheeks, etc. Similar to Blackface, where white actors painted their skin dark to play roles, yellow face makeup was used by a non-East Asian performer playing the role of an East Asian person.