In commemoration of Juneteeth, the day that marked the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865, Snapchat released a filter that aimed to celebrate the monumental day. The filter that had the text “JUNETEENTH FREEDOM DAY”, however, required users to smile to break what appeared to be virtual chains of slavery.
Users took to Twitter to express dismay on the inappropriate content:
This SnapChat #Juneteenth filter is…um…interesting.
Smile to break the chains? Okay then. pic.twitter.com/Wyob3kT3ew
— Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie) June 19, 2020
— Camrus Johnson (@CamrusJ) June 19, 2020
guess they thought this was gonna be our reaction pic.twitter.com/TNsq2W6QBG
— Kane⚡️ (@SaintLouisNigga) June 19, 2020
— Scott’s Thots (@MrDQJ) June 19, 2020
So Snapchat made a Juneteenth filter… I dunno how to feel about it. pic.twitter.com/m671iBV7di
— Hi, I'm Kel and my Black life matters. ✊🏿🖤 (@YummiKoko69) June 19, 2020
Snap has taken down the controversial filter since and the company’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Oona King, has issued an apology for the “error”.
In an internal email published by The Verge, King said her team has “failed to recognize the gravity of the ‘smile’ trigger for the filter” despite “reviewing the Snapchat Lens from the standpoint of a Black creative content.”
While many pointed out that this highlights the lack of diversity in the Snap team, King said “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.”
King also wrote in the letter that racial justice is a matter her team deeply cares about.
Snap, through a spokesperson, released an official statement, which explained that the filter was launched by mistake without all the necessary approvals and that they’re looking into the matter to make sure it won’t happen again.
At the end of her message to her team, King said “This mistake has taught us a valuable lesson, and I am sincerely sorry that it came at the expense of what we meant to be a respectful commemoration of this important day.”
If we will be honest, one does not have to be an expert in World History to understand that the mere initiative to create a social media filter for a liberation day from slavery is downright insensitive.
Even though we have the right to express our thoughts and emotions in every creative way possible both online and offline, and the right to commemorate holidays the way we want, we must tread carefully and responsibly on matters that are beyond the glitz and glamour of social media—because these matters deserve to be remembered in ways that do not undermine their history.