Snapchat: Yeah, Our Juneteenth Filter Asking Users to Smile to Break Chains Was a Bad Idea

Photo: Denis Charlet, Getty Images
Photo: Denis Charlet, Getty Images

Snapchat received widespread criticism Friday for its Juneteenth filter that prompted users to celebrate the anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S. by smiling to break chains. By mid-day, Snap quietly pulled the tone-deaf filter and the company has since issued a public apology. Apparently, this Lens was a beta version that went live by mistake, though I’m not sure if that’s more or less embarrassing.

“We deeply apologise to the members of the Snapchat community who found this Lens offensive,” a Snap spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing the concept, but a version of the Lens that went live for Snapchatters this morning had not been approved through our review process. We are investigating why this mistake occurred so that we can avoid it in the future.”

Using an approximation of the Pan-African flag as a backdrop and a banner that read “Juneteenth Freedom Day”, the filter prompted the user to smile — a common trigger for Snapchat’s animated Lenses — which would cause chains to appear and break behind them. A source familiar with the matter told the Verge that black employees at Snap helped develop the filter but they never reviewed this iteration that included the cue to smile.

The filter went viral Friday morning after digital strategist and former journalist Mark Luckie posted about it on Twitter, calling it “um….interesting.” Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself because this level of tone-deaf cringe goes beyond words.

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On a good day, this filter’s release might be waved off as a spectacularly bone-headed PR move at a time when racial tensions are high. However, this blunder comes after Snap CEO Evan Spiegel recently came out and said the company’s diversity report would not be made public. According to a Business Insider report, Spiegel said Snap’s diversity stats would only reinforce the perception that the tech industry lacks representation from minority groups and that “all these disclosures have actually normalized the current composition of the tech workforce.” Essentially, the company’s workforce is overwhelmingly white, as is the case with many of the tech world’s biggest players despite years of lip service paid to commitments to diversify.

Suffice it to say, this ain’t a good look, Snap.