Is Snapchat's reputation at risk?

Snapchat has been accused of racism for the second time, following the release of a face filter referred to as ‘yellowface’, which has recently brought the brand’s reputation into disrepute.

The photo & video-sharing app regularly adds fun filters and encourages its users, including numerous global brands, to be innovative and push the boundaries of creativity.

Creative reputation

Snapchat has grown at a rapid rate, and now boasts more daily users than Twitter. Initially it was a simple photo-sharing app which deleted material after 10 seconds. Nowadays, it’s a messaging app, a video sharing app, a news app and a face-swapping phenomenon which has gained a reputation of being fun, innovative and harmless.

This latest oversight from Snapchat could be seen as a misjudgement, an honest mistake or even a momentary lapse in concentration from the brand and its top employees. How was a company of this size able to allow such a mistake to happen?

How did they make the same mistake?

For a company of Snapchat’s size, decisions such as new features, designs and updates need to be passed through various members of senior staff. This is not the first Snapchat filter to cause an uproar. Back in April, the brand’s Bob Marley ‘tribute’ filter was widely criticised.

The act of putting Bob Marley’s face – referred to by the Guardian as “the voice of poor people and black liberation in a space very few artists ever have access to” – was at least racially insensitive. The latest ‘yellowface’ filter involved yellowing the face, adding squinted eyes and bucked teeth to its users, which fits racial stereotypes and have caused widespread anger.

Snapchat claims the filter was intended to pay homage to anime characters, and has stated that it will not go back into circulation.

Critics of the filter included Katie Zhu, a product manager at online publishing platform Medium, who described the filter as being “blatantly racist… a derogatory and offensive caricature of Asians” in her blog explaining why she has deleted the app.

Zhu accused the company of being a “prime example of what happens when you don’t have enough people of colour building a product”.

Previous criticism

Many of Snapchat’s users are thought to be teenagers. However, the app continues to publish news on its ‘Discover’ page from magazines such as Cosmopolitan – which has a target market of adult women. The app was recently sued over some ‘explicit’ news stories and has been encouraged to improve its censorship.

Back in May, the app was criticised for its ‘face whitening’ filter, which has been accused of trying to ‘define what beauty is’ and lighten the skin tone of its users.

Positives of Snapchat

Founded in 2011, Snapchat is a social media revelation, and is becoming a must-have for companies which advertise digitally.

It continues to grow and push the boundaries of creative social media, gaining an audience of nearly 50 million for its coverage of Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the first week alone.

With 150 million daily users, Snapchat has incorporated advertising and sponsorship to its brand and, uniquely, allows brands to directly connect with users who are harder to reach, particularly teenagers who are regularly on trend with social media.

With such a wide audience across various different cultures, as well as a large, young audience, Snapchat must learn to stop repeating these mistakes in order to recover and maintain its reputation.