Remember FaceApp, the smartphone app that, among other things, allows you to add a filter to your face to make you look younger or older? The one that somehow fascinates every single person you know and encourages them to post photos on their social media feed so that your feed becomes some kind of Benjamin Button-esque nightmare?
Well, on Wednesday, FaceApp added new Black, Asisan, and Indian filters that immediately stirred up controversy. The new filters allowed FaceApp users to show what they would look like if they were another race. But it was hard to find anyone who thought that was actually a good idea—and the new filters were taken down within a matter of just hours.
um... FaceApp? pic.twitter.com/5avg89otG9— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) August 9, 2017
The issue revolved around the fact that these new filters were, in essence, blackface, brownface, and yellowface for white people. Dressing up or filtering your way into another race is pretty hurtful for those who are actually of that race and face (no pun intended) discrimination every day but can’t just change a filter and have it all disappear.
The FaceApp algorithm also appeared to emphasize certain harmful stereotypes about certain races. For example, in the set of photos below, the Indian example is pretty much the exact same as the original white guy but with a unibrow.
me and my three ethnically diverse half brothers unequivocally condemn the new faceapp filters pic.twitter.com/uMNfIrb73f— Alex Nichols (@Lowenaffchen) August 9, 2017
There was also this photo of Mike Pence—who looks nothing like Barack Obama—getting turned into someone who looks suspiciously like the former President.
Wow... FaceApp really setting the bar for racist AR with its awful new update that includes Black, Indian and Asian "race filters" pic.twitter.com/Lo5kmLvoI9— Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) August 9, 2017
In a statement he released just before having the offensive filters removed, FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov responded to the controversy his company caused by writing:
"The ethnicity change filters have been designed to be equal in all aspects. They don’t have any positive or negative connotations associated with them. They are even represented by the same icon. In addition to that, the list of those filters is shuffled for every photo, so each user sees them in a different order."
This isn’t the first time FaceApp has been criticized for racially insensitive behavior. In April, it introduced a "hot" filter that was meant to magically make you look more attractive. However, users noticed that the app’s AI somehow learned that, in order to do this, features needed to be softened and skin tones needed to be lightened.
Snapchat has also come under fire for similar blunders. Remember the Bob Marley filter for 4/20 that gave you dreadlocks and a darker complexion? Yeah. Maybe these social media companies should start thinking long and hard before coming up with these filters.