The INSIDER Summary:
- On Wednesday, FaceApp released four new filters, titled “Asian,” “Black,” “Caucasian,” and “Indian.”
- Ostensibly designed to change the appearance of your ethnicity, the filters are questionable — to say the least.
- People online have already started to criticize the app for what is essentially a blatant case of digital blackface.
- It’s a shockingly tone-deaf move for the company, especially since it was already criticized for a racially insensitive filter earlier this year.
A photo editing and selfie app called FaceApp took the internet by storm earlier this year.
Using neural-network technology, the app can make you look younger or older, swap your gender, add a smile to your photo, and more. However, FaceApp quickly came under fire for a “Hot” filter that lightened your skin tone and made your nose more narrow. After users accused the company of whitewashing, CEO Yaroslav Goncharov first renamed — and then pulled — the filter in April.
On Wednesday, the app released an update that includes four new, equally questionable filters — to say the least.
FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov told INSIDER that the “ethnicity change” filters “will be removed from the app within the next few hours,” despite defending them in an earlier part of his statement (as seen below).
The four new filters, titled “Asian,” “Black,” “Caucasian,” and “Indian,” are ostensibly designed to change the appearance of your ethnicity.
When INSIDER reached out to Goncharov about the update, he told us the following:
“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.”
However, regardless of FaceApp’s intentions, it’s safe to say the filters are a pretty blatant case of digital blackface, yellowface, and brownface.
Here’s what they made me look like:
Unsurprisingly, people on Twitter are already criticizing the filters for being racially insensitive.
It’s a truly bizarre move for FaceApp, especially since the CEO apologized for “the unquestionably serious issue” of its whitewashing “Hot” filter just earlier this year. “It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behaviour,” Goncharov told the Guardian.
Not to mention Snapchat has received similar criticism in the past for its Bob Marley and “anime-inspired” filters, which users called “digital blackface” and “yellowface,” respectively.
Unlike Snapchat, however, FaceApp seems to have designed its new filters with one goal in mind: to let users “try on” racial phenotypes the way they would a flower crown or puppy ears. While this may seem like harmless fun, it’s important to keep in mind that blackface originated as a form of racist entertainment, rooted in harmful stereotypes.
Moreover, it’s not entirely clear why or how FaceApp chose the four categories it did — categories that include billions of people who can vastly differ in their physical appearance. For example, the “Asian” filter made me, an actual Asian woman, look like a completely different person.
Even stranger, the app separates “Indian” from “Asian” into its own category yet still operates under the assumption that everyone else in Asia — from Pakistan to Japan, from South Asians to East Asians — all look alike.
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