Snapchat is widely popular among users as a messaging app, and a significant part of the popularity can be attributed to Snapchat lens. This feature, introduced in September 2015 allows the user to add real-time effects to their faces by using face detection technology. Since then, Snapchat has continuously upgraded the feature to make it better. Snapchat keeps adding new lenses to their app while phasing out old ones to keep things interesting, but seemingly, all is not well. The messaging service, although quite loved by users, is in for another round of criticism.
Snapchat got into hot waters for a lens it introduced with the latest update. They are being accused of racial discrimination towards Asians and 'yellowfacing'. It was designed to turn the user’s face into an Asian caricature, also modifying the skin tone to a light yellow and squinty eyes, making the racism painfully obvious. This particular issue is quite sensitive right now, with the hashtag #myyellowfacestory often trending on Twitter. The Asian community has been actively speaking against whitewashing and yellowface, and the Hollywood film industry is taking a lot of heat over Asian roles getting snagged by white artists.
Snapchat has taken down the particular lens permanently following the backlash on Twitter. They also noted that the filter was intended to mimic anime art style and was not meant to offend any particular race or demographic. As the company themselves put it, “lenses are meant to be playful and never to offend”. The timing of the controversy makes it worse for Snapchat as it incurs the wrath of many users sensitive to racism and stereotyping.
Snapchat recently got into hot waters for a Bob Marley inspired lens where the face of the user was changed to look like a caricature of the singer but with a digital blackface effect. Also, the release date of the lens, 4/20 was criticized as it coincided with the marijuana holiday and hinted at the famous singer’s addiction to weed. The filter was also perceived as a dishonor to the singer. The company has recently come under fire for not publishing any data regarding the diversity in staff as well.