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 apologize 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.
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 appeared to drag its feet about making the company’s diversity report public. According to a Business Insider report, Snap is developing its own version of a diversity report because, as it stands now, the company’s diversity stats would only reinforce the perception that the tech industry lacks representation from minority groups. Per the report, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel even went so far as to tell workers at an all-hands meeting that “all these disclosures” by other companies in the tech industry “have actually normalized the current composition of the tech workforce.”
Essentially, Snap’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.
Correction 6/27/2020 at 2:20 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this article referred to a report that stated that Snap would not release its diversity stats. Snap later told Gizmodo that the cited report was inaccurate and that the company would publicly release its diversity numbers “in the near term.”
“We are fully committed to releasing our diversity numbers publicly, along with additional context and our plans for meaningful change,” a Snap spokesperson said via email. Business Insider published an identical statement it received from the company after its previous report went live.