Snapchat Apologizes For Juneteenth Filter That Prompted Users To Smile To Break Chains

Snap Inc. Co-Founder and CEO Evan Spiegel talks about the future of the Snapchat camera at the Snap Partner Summit
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Snapchat’s Juneteenth filter, which prompted users of the social media app to smile to cause a graphic of chains to break in the background of the image, was removed after the filter was widely criticized on social media, CNN reported on Friday. The company issued a statement apologizing for releasing the filter after it was removed.

“We deeply apologize to the members of the Snapchat community who found this Lens offensive,” a Snapchat spokesperson told CNN. “A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing the concept, but a version of the Lens that went live for Snapchatters this morning had not been approved through our review process.”

The spokesperson also told CNN that Snapchat is looking into how the filter got released without being approved so that mistakes like the Juneteenth filter could be avoided in the future.

The filter featured the words “Juneteenth Freedom Day” and a background of a waving Pan-African flag, CNN reported. When a Snapchat user pointed the camera at their face, a graphic of chains appeared in the background and the filter prompted them to smile. When they did, the graphic of chains animated, and the chains broke, hence the “smile to break the chains” message that drew criticism on social media.

People took to Twitter to call out Snapchat for its lack of judgment.

One Twitter user said, “Snapchat had a filter today where people could ‘smile’ to break their virtual chains for Juneteenth. We live in an Onion headline.”

“No seriously. Who thought this Juneteenth filter was a good idea @snapchat???” said another Twitter user.

According to The LA Times, this isn’t the first time that Snapchat has faced public backlash for filters that were perceived as insensitive or offensive. For 4/20, the date pop culture associates with smoking marijuana, the company released a Bob Marley filter which made the users’ skin appear darker. The filter was criticized for being digital blackface. Snapchat also released a filter that transformed users’ features into anime-like caricatures of Asian features, and the company has been criticized for creating filters that lighten darker skin.

One former Snapchat employee told The LA Times that she left Snapchat because she was disappointed with the company’s culture. She went on to say that “in this time where everyone is trying to be a lot more racially conscious and more politically aware, it’s honestly very shocking to me that they haven’t put in the proper system to prevent this from happening again.”

The LA Times reported that another former Snapchat employee, who is black, criticized the company in his Snapchat story after seeing the filter.

“We know when you don’t care. We know when we’re an afterthought,” he wrote. “It’s disrespectful to every Black employee both past and present that helped build this place.”

The same employee tweeted about the filter on Friday, saying that he had been promised by Snapchat’s CEO years ago that racially insensitive filters wouldn’t be released in the future and stating that the Juneteenth filter was proof he’d been lied to.

According to CNN, Snapchat is one of the few tech companies that doesn’t release information about the diversity of its employees. The company’s chief technology officer and co-founder has said that Snapchat is working on a way to release that information, but it hasn’t yet. Most members of Snapchat’s board and senior leadership are white.