To look at some of Snapchat’s recent filters, one could easily get the impression that someone in charge really, really likes offensive, racist jokes.
A few weeks back, the platform rolled out a custom Bob Marley mask that essentially projected a black man’s face onto users and surrounded them in marijuana smoke.
Now Snapchat’s under fire for another racially charged filter, one that projects a stereotypical cartoon of an Asian person with dramatically slanted eyes, upturned eyebrows, and buck teeth, onto a person’s face. The only thing missing from the caricature is a pointed straw hat.
In an interview with the Verge, a Snapchat rep tried to explain that the filter was inspired by Japanese animation, which is a weak attempt at denying the fact that the filter is patently offensive and based on racist ideas. The lens has since been pulled.
As Venturebeat reporter Ken Yeung pointed out on Twitter, the filter has less in common with anime and much more closely resembles Mickey Rooney’s yellowface-d performance as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
Rooney, a white man, was hired by director Blake Edwards to play Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese character, as an over-the-top racist caricature of a person for comedy’s sake. The actor was given an oral prosthetic of misshapen teeth and his eyebrows were affixed in such a way to give him eyes so slanted that he could barely see.
In 2006, after decades of criticism from various Asian communities, Edwards expressed deep regret over deciding to cast Rooney for the part, a regret that Rooney himself never quite understood.
The good people over at Snapchat, it would seem, don’t quite understand the critique either. While the filter has been taken out of circulation, one has to wonder what kind of quality control is in place to prevent these obviously bad, irresponsible features to be rolled out if it keeps happening.
To that end, how does this keep happening? One imagines that if, at some point during the development process, one of Snapchat’s Asian or black employees had actually seen the company’s offensive filters, they might have spoken up. But that would presume that Snapchat has a diverse enough workforce that such a conversation could even happen. (We’ve reached out to Snapchat for further comment and will update if we hear back.)
In a 2015 conversation with Recode’s Walt Mossberg about what steps Snapchat was taking to diversify its quickly growing staff, CEO Evan Spiegel insisted that diversity was “closely tied to competency” because of the platform’s diverse user base. That’s totally true!
But then Spiegel made a point of not answering a followup question about just how diverse Snapchat’s workplace really is.
“In order for us to make absolutely great products and services for that community, we need a really, really diverse group of people,” Spiegel deflected. “I should have exact percentages for you but we just don’t think about diversity in terms of numbers that way.”
While Snapchat has not released a diversity report, its track record suggests that the company isn’t operating at full competency.