Snapchat Exercises Poor Judgment With 4/20 Bob Marley Blackface Filter

Snapchat Exercises Poor Judgment With 4/20 Bob Marley Blackface Filter
Image credit: Kirk West / Contributor | Getty Images

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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.

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.

Related: Microsoft Grounds Its AI Chat Bot After it Learns Sexism and Racism From Twitter Users

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.

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