In a statement, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, offered an apology for the Juneteenth filter.
“We deeply apologize to the members of the Snapchat community who found this Lens offensive,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “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.”
After the filter launched Friday morning, users began commenting on the odd way in which Snapchat was using the filter to “celebrate” Juneteenth. “This SnapChat #Juneteenth filter is…um…interesting,” digital strategist Mark Luckie wrote in a tweet. “Smile to break the chains? Okay then.”
Multimedia designer/developer Ashten Winger, who previously worked at Snap for more than three years, wrote in a Twitter post about the filter that “this is what happens when you don’t have any black people on the product design team. As a Snap alumni, this is extremely embarrassing. It doesn’t have to be this hard — how about an AR experience to inform your 229 million daily active users what Juneteenth is?”
Another Snapchat user tweeted, “@Snapchat why would you all think a Juneteenth filter should include ‘smiling’ as the key to break the chains of slavery? That was extremely insensitive and disheartening.”
This SnapChat #Juneteenth filter is…um…interesting.
Smile to break the chains? Okay then. pic.twitter.com/Wyob3kT3ew
— Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie) June 19, 2020
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S., and this year has been adopted by many companies as an official holiday. June 19 marks the date in 1865 — two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — when a Union Army general informed enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free.
Snap’s PR fumble with the Juneteenth filter comes after report last week by Business Insider that CEO Evan Spiegel said in all-hands meeting that Snap would not publicly release diversity statistics about its employees as many other Silicon Valley companies do. Spiegel said he was concerned that doing so “would reinforce the idea that minority groups are underrepresented in the tech industry,” according to the BI report. Snap previously had said it was committed to releasing diversity metrics “with more context and plans for meaningful action.”
Meanwhile, Snap earlier this month said it stopped promoting content from Donald Trump’s account in its Discover media section, citing the president’s comments on “racial violence and injustice.”
It’s not the first time Snapchat has been called out for insensitive filters. On April 20, 2016, it released a Bob Marley-inspired filter that darkened user’s skin color and added dreadlocks, which was criticized as “digital blackface.” Later that year, another Snapchat filter pulled down users’ eyes into slanted lines, enlarged their cheeks and made their front teeth more prominent if smiling, which some perceived as echoing racist Asian caricatures.