Things That Matter

Snapchat Tragically Thought Making Users Smile To Break ‘Chains Of Slavery’ Was A Fun Idea

Companies and brands need Black people.

Case in point: recently, an executive from Snapchat’s parent company was forced to apologize for a disrespectful filter that encouraged users to “break the chains of slavery with a smile.”

Snapchat’s latest filter was set against a Pan-African flag and encouraged users to smile to make chains appear and ultimately break them.

The filter was featured as part of Snapchat’s Juneteenth support effort which rose in popularity amid protests over the death of Georg Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people across the United States.

Users on Twitter were quick to condemn the filter as “tone-deaf” and being superficial in attempts to address systematic racism. In response to the backlash, former Snapchat employees have tweeted out about the company’s lack of diversity. “This is what happens when you don’t have any black people on the product design team,” one Twitter user wrote.

In response to complaints, Oona King, the vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Snap, slammed assertions that the company launched the filter without consulting Black staffers.

“The mischaracterization on social media — that White executives at a tech company failed, yet again, to include Black perspectives — is completely untrue,” King, a Black woman told employees in a Saturday letter. “What is true is that regardless of our diverse backgrounds, we are all human, and humans make mistakes.”

King asserted that Black employees had been “fully involved” in creating and approving the filter. In response to complaints, Snapchat pulled the filter and apologized.

“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,” King said in the letter published by The Verge. “We feel it is perfectly acceptable as black people to celebrate the end of slavery — as we do with picnics, BBQs, street parties, and other forms of celebration across America — and say ‘Smile! Happy Juneteenth; we’re no longer enslaved! But we’re not yet really free either! However for a White person to tell a Black person: ‘Smile! You’re no longer slaves’ is offensive in the extreme.”

Unlike other Silicon Valley giants, Snap has yet to share a report on the diversity of its workforce. Recently they announced plans to publicly release diversity data, “along with additional context and our plans for meaningful change.”

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