A feature that superimposed Bob Marley’s face over selfies to commemorate the marijuana holiday has underscored, yet again, the need for diverse perspectives in tech.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god snapchat put a "Bob Marley" filter and it's... bad and in poor taste, to say the least pic.twitter.com/syAHGXp3f6— Alp Ozcelik (@alplicable) April 20, 2016
Seemingly no one in the company flagged the idea as problematic throughout the brainstorm, design and launch process -- or if they did, their concerns were disregarded. In any case, rather than waking-and-baking on 4/20, Snapchat users arose to the appalling new feature, taking to social media to express outrage and condemn the company as ill-advised and racist.
the Bob Marley filter is so unnecessary and so racist my head is actually hurting thinking about it. well done @Snapchat, you played urself— #27 (@MilanMillyMills) April 20, 2016
So we're just going to act like the Bob Marley filter on snapchat isn't a form of blackface or appropriation just because it's 4/20?— Eddie (@Eddiespaghe11ii) April 20, 2016
I'm actually gobbed, how can snapchat make Bob Marley a filter, the man represented so much more but to "white" people he just smoked weed— Issa Peregrino (@ThePrince_PVE) April 20, 2016
This is not the first face-swap app that has enabled tone-deaf users to don the visages of black celebrities, The Washington Post notes. It is, however, the most prominent one, which could explain yesterday’s widespread backlash.
Several publications obtained the following, unapologetic statement from Snapchat: “The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.”
Related: Gap Apologizes for 'Racist' Ad
While Snapchat hasn’t said any more about whether anyone within the company objected to the feature before its launch, this incident has become the latest symbol of the homogeneity within Silicon Valley. If companies prioritize hiring people of diverse backgrounds -- racial, ethnic, sexual -- they will be less prone to glaringly offensive ideas.
Snaps are “self-destructive,” or rather, they disappear after a matter of seconds. The Marley blackface filter gives that description a new meaning, and the service’s users won’t quickly forget this lapse in judgment.