One of the key attractions of Snapchat is its face filters, which allows users to play around with selfies or normal photos and transform themselves into humorous variants. Snapchat isn’t the only app that does this, as others like Instagram, Faceapp, VSCO and Gradient all use some type of filter or photo manipulation to draw in users. Snapchat’s lenses are perhaps the most popular of these however, with viral filters like the Gender Change Filter and the Baby Filter, but there is a dark cloud that hangs over some of these photo manipulation tools, especially with some of the more recent ones trending online.
Both the modern problem of catfishing and the more historical problem of blackface, have both been linked to the use of photo filters in recent years. At their core, filters are merely innocent tools of play, but it’s still good to be aware of their negative connotations and also be critical when they become problematic.
The newest viral filter from Snapchat is the Anime Filter, which changes a selfie or photo into an anime-style drawing with an oil paint effect. The filter went viral not only because of the mainstream love for anime and the drawing style associated with it, but also because it recognizes expression changes, which allows users to have access to a wider range of selfies. Even so, the filter has some glaring flaws that have been met with criticism alongside its emergence.
Y’all got me tight ##boondocks ##tomdubois ##animefilter ##WorldPeace ##MusicLesson
♬ original sound – tabarakkambal
Some of these issues include complications with accessories and hair color, as the app tends to melt glasses frames onto the face, difficulty implementing facial hair and prefers more natural hair colors. One such example comes from TikToker @realadamrose, who shared a video testing the filter as it fails to read his beard. As he put it, “I kinda look Amish.” The filter is relatively new, so there is likely an update down the road that may improve its detection. Technical difficulties aside, some of the issues with these filters are far more troubling to many online, despite their prevalence in the last couple of weeks.
this was a mistake. ##animeme ##animefilter ##fyp
♬ original sound – Adam Rose
The term Catfish refers to altering images or information online to create a fake persona, and filter apps such as these make the latter very simple. Filters like the infamous Dog Filter allow people to take a good-looking, humorous selfie with minimal effort, which isn’t a bad thing for the goofier types, but the concept can still be used to catfish online. While seemingly innocent, this can also create an image issue where people manipulate selfies and use them on social media to fool or trick the unsuspecting. The problem of catfishing goes beyond a simple filter, however, it remains a troubling phantom that hangs over the lighthearted playfulness.
Although mostly harmless, other apps have faced heated backlash for some of these photo manipulation tools. Faceapp is one such example that allows users to manipulate age, gender, facial expressions and, at one point, race. Despite the race filter being removed after a vocal outcry online with the CEO ultimately making a statement in a Verge article, another version has recently emerged and created quite a stir. Gradient, as of two days ago, released a similar race-altering filter, and Twitter is full of users posting their photos using the tool in droves. The filter will likely be short-lived, as it does little to address the same problems Faceapp had in the past … though it’s described by Gradient as, “Find out how you would look like if you were born on a different continent.”
A recent addition to the ever growing gallery of racist tech:
Meet Gradient – an “AI photo editing app” that creates a digital blackface/brownface/yellowface
They call it “Find out how you would look like if you were born on a different continent.” 🤦🏻♀️ pic.twitter.com/dgni3DY126
— Anna 4erepawko Mészáros (@4erepawko) September 20, 2020
The mutual problem between the two controversial apps is that populations of the continents referenced in the filters have a wide variety of facial features and demographics, and blanketing them under a single umbrella is perceived as in poor taste by many or outright racist by others. It echoes back to the controversy of blackface, and the apps do little to stop this association or address the problems vocalized online. Although it’s on users to use the filter and post images online, it seems that many agree race filters should simply be left in the idea bin for good.
Ultimately, photo manipulation is both a serious tool and an innocent toy, so it puts the final responsibility on how they’re used. The anime filter and others like it act as a harmless toy for users to mess around with and enjoy, so the problems associated with examples such as these are minimal. The ultimate goal for filters is that users are engaged and have fun, so developers should always be asking, “How will my userbase perceive this filter, and will there be a positive or negative response to consider beforehand?” Until then, we can expect reactions to play out over and over again, just as they have with the latest example.
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