Snapchat has removed a controversial filter it created for the Juneteenth holiday. In an email to employees, Snap's head of diversity, Oona King, apologized to those who have been accused both internally and externally of failing to be culturally sensitive.
Juneteenth, which took place on June 19th, is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Snapchat developed a special filter to mark the holiday, which showed a Pan-Africa flag in the background whilst promoting users to smile. Chains could be seen being broken in the background when the smile trigger was activated. The popular social media app has now removed the filter an apologized for any offense caused.
Snapchat wrote in a statement published on Twitter: "We deeply apologize for the offensive Juneteenth Lens. The Lens that went live hadn’t been approved through our review process. We are investigating so this doesn’t happen again."
The filter could be seen as a major slip from Snapchat, which has attracted negative press over the issue, particularly on social media. Now, Snap's head of diversity and inclusion, Oona King, has confirmed more details about how the filter came to be released. In an email sent out to Snapchat employees, King writes how the filter was a collaborative effort between both black and white team members at Snap. King also admitted that he and his team had "failed to recognize the gravity of the "smile" trigger".
The mischaracterization on social media — that White executives at a tech company failed, yet again, to include Black perspectives — is completely untrue. What is true is that regardless of our diverse backgrounds, we are all human, and humans make mistakes. - Oona King, Snapchat.
The email to Snap employees also addressed the issue of celebrating the end of slavery. It said: "We feel it is perfectly acceptable as Black people to celebrate the end of slavery — as we do with picnics, BBQs, street parties and other forms of celebration across America — and say “Smile! Happy Juneteenth; we’re no longer enslaved! But we’re not yet really free either!” However for a White person to tell a Black person: “Smile! You’re no longer slaves” is offensive in the extreme."
This is not the first time Snap has caused controversy and had to apologize for themed filters. In 2016, a Bob Marley blackface filter released for 4/20 caused controversy. Snapchat does not publish any kind of diversity report, unlike many of its rivals. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel told CNBC earlier this month that "Snapchat looks like most other technology companies in terms of representation," but did not commit to making any details public.