Snapchat’s filter problems are *why* diversity in tech matters

The current hot social media service of the moment is Snapchat. I’ve never used it, but its appeal is in sending temporary photos to others, upon which they delete themselves after a limited timespan. On top of that, Snapchat offers filters for its photos. Most of these filters are of goofy stuff (like dog ears). However, some of them have received much criticism.

The first of the criticized filters was a “Bob Marley” filter released several months ago. Created with the permission of Marley’s estate, the filter was apparently meant to tie into April 20th marijuana-related festivities. The filter gave people’s photos dreadlocks and a darker skin tone… which got roundly criticized as basically a blackface filter. Critics also noted that the filter’s April 20th (or “4/20”) tie-in assumes Marley was mainly about marijuana use, ignoring his achievements in music and activism. Snapchat pulled the filter and issued an apology.

Apparently any lessons learned by Snapchat didn’t quite take. The social media company’s recently gotten in trouble again. This time, the trouble is Snapchat releasing what it called an “anime” filter. This filter gave photo subjects narrow, slanted eyes and buck teeth, of all things.

Never mind anyone who’s seen cartoons in the past few decades (or at least Pokemon) would know that that’s not what anime looks like. Instead, it resembles old Western cartoons’ stereotypical portrayals of Asians. Again, Snapchat pulled the controversial filter.

The above are reasons why diversity matters in the tech world. More than one person must’ve approved of the filters before they went live. A more diverse staff at Snapchat might’ve lessened the chances of such filters being greenlit, though not a guarantee. This would include African-Americans and Latinos, two groups underrepresented in the tech industry.

However, as the Washington Post notes, diversity at Snapchat’s uncertain numbers-wise, as they refuse to release any figures like their rivals at Facebook, Twitter, etc. Not that those companies’ numbers are remotely impressive at all (they aren’t), but at least they’re available.

Besides being the right thing to do morally, it also might be the right thing to do fiscally. Snapchat faced some questioning about its hiring practices in a recent California hearing over granting the company tax breaks. It’s not certain how much has come from the hearing. However, hiring diversity might become a criteria if companies like Snapchat want tax breaks in the future.

In the meantime, some are reacting to Snapchat’s gaffes by deleting the apps from their phones outright. Worth mentioning is that Instagram (owned by Facebook) is offering more and more services similar to Snapchat’s. Those who’ve really had enough of Snapchat’s antics won’t have to completely miss out on some of its features.

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