Snapchat apologises for ‘misguided’ filters that caused offence

Snapchat said it has “changed as a company” in recent years and apologised for past filters such as a Bob Marley face which was accused of promoting blackface at the time.

Henry Turnbull, head of public policy for the UK and Nordics at Snap Inc, told MPs that the lens was “misguided” and would be “rejected” under the app’s current rules.

The Bob Marley lens was criticised when it launched on Snapchat in 2016 to mark April 20 – also known as Weed Day – by allowing users to superimpose the late reggae singer’s face on to their own.

“[This] was a lens that we ran more than four years ago in 2016 that was actually developed in collaboration with the Bob Marley estate, so Bob Marley’s family. I think nevertheless it was a really misguided lens and people rightly took offence at the time, four years ago,” Mr Turnbull explained to the Women and Equalities Committee.

“It’s not available on Snapchat now, this type of lens would be rejected now under our current policies, we don’t allow any lenses that would be considered offensive by a group of people or that can foster negative stereotypes and we’ll reject lenses that are developed by our user community as well as anything produced by Snap, so this was definitely a mistake.

“I’d like to apologise to anybody who took offence, it was a really misguided lens but it was more than four years ago and we’ve certainly changed as a company since then.”

Representatives from Facebook and TikTok also took questions from MPs who launched an inquiry on body image, during which the tech giants were grilled about the possible impact of filters via their apps.

Asked about a so-called “chubby face” effect on TikTok, the firm’s head of child safety public policy in Europe, Alexandra Evans, said all platforms are on “a bit of a learning curve”.

“I don’t think today we would allow people that said it was describing something called ‘chubby face’, no absolutely,” she said.

“Our trust and safety team are really alert to the fact that these filters must always be a force for good… when we go forward we want to make sure that we’re always leaning in to promote that diversity and that positivity around people’s sense of self and their body image.”

Meanwhile, Facebook’s UK public policy manager Richard Earley said he was not familiar with a “chav” filter highlighted by MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy.

“Without seeing it I can’t say whether it would break one of our rules but all of our regular community standards apply to filters, just as they do to any other post or piece of content on Facebook that includes not allowing things that are bullying or harassing, and not allowing people to be cruel or insensitive towards others,” he said.

“Even as we have gotten better at understanding what is and isn’t right in this space, and as we’ve gotten better and better at enforcing it, it’s likely that it’s often the case that sometimes things do get through our checks and that’s why we always allow anyone to report any piece of content on our platform.”