You’d think that Snapchat would have learned from their Bob Marley debacle – but nope. Instead, they went and offended Asians.
Let me catch you up:
A few years back, then upstart social media platform apparently thought their users could have some fun with a new “Bob Marley” filter. Debuting on April 20th (4/20 – maybe an “accident”?), members could use the feature to superimpose an image of the famous musician, dreadlocks and all, over their own faces.1 While Snapchat’s thoughts may have been in the right place, the execution was less than stellar.
What those using the face filter got instead could be described as a warped, distorted-looking face that was less Bob Marley and more…well, not to mince words, blackface.
Well, I think you can guess what happened next. Snapchat users were offended, and they voiced their thoughts via Twitter, which feels somewhat ironic:
“@Snapchat @snapchatsupport You do know that #bobmarley filter is #blackface, right? You know that’s not OK, right?”2
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god snapchat put a “Bob Marley” filter and it’s… bad and in poor taste, to say the least”
“Soooo @Snapchat capitalising on 4/20 with a blackface Bob Marley filter. Stay classy. #NotCool”
Snapchat did issue a statement to Gizmodo in response to their request for an explanation:
“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.”3
Not an apology – really, more of a defense of their actions if you ask me. And it was sent to a particular media outlet per a request, so it wasn’t geared as such. And yes, Gizmodo updated their article to include it. So, I imagine that Gizmodo’s readers at least were probably not impressed either.
The backlash from their users and the negative media attention should have been should have been the wakeup call they needed to think carefully before doing these kinds of publicity stunts again.
Or, if you’re more of a cynic, you might think they’d forget.
Well then, you’d be partially right.
Because just mere months later, Snapchat took another leap into clueless land with…wait for it…another face-altering lens. Not a celebrity that looks more like blackface. Nah, they decided to forego the famous person route and go generic.
How’s about a “yellowface” lens? And by “yellowface”, I mean, replace one’s actual visage with a yellow cartoon face complete with slanted eyes and buck teeth (seriously.)4
Quick aside for a short history lesson: For years, major Hollywood studios and the government produced numerous major films and propaganda films respectively that depicted Japanese (and Asian people in general) as caricatures, including children’s cartoons.
So that ugly stereotype has been around for a while now. How Snapchat missed that memo boggles the mind.
Gee, what happened next? Take it away, Twitter:
“@Snapchat wanna tell me why u thought this yellowface was ok??”
“Seriously @Snapchat.. Yellow Face filter? This is what you DON’T do in 2016. We have a voice now.”5
“Stop it, Snapchat, this is not okay. This Yellow Face filter is not cool.” – actress and celebrity blogger Latrice Butts
And right on their heels was the media in many cases reminded their audiences of the previous Bob Marley fiasco:
The New York Times: Snapchat Finds Itself on the Wrong Side of a Racial Lens. Again.
USA Today: Snapchat under fire for ‘yellowface’ filter
Wired: Clearly Snapchat Doesn’t Get What’s Wrong With Yellowface
Mashable: Snapchat released another racially insensitive filter
While Snapchat did take down the lens (as they should) they did also provide an explanation, claiming that they were inspired by anime and were trying to be playful and weren’t meant to offend. (Or, nothing to see here, folks. Move on, please).
And yet another missed opportunity to own what was in all likelihood an innocent (albeit second) mistake by issuing a sincere apology and explaining what they were going to do to make sure such things would never happen again.
I can’t get into the heads of the decision-makers over at Snapchat – but I can say that the public’s perception will shape the “reality” of their actions. Not admitting to a mistake doesn’t mean it never happened, any more than ignoring that mistake will make it go away.
Snapchat likely didn’t win over any hearts and minds with their brief dismissal. It’s the kind of tone-deaf response can spell the beginning of the end for many a business that couldn’t recover from relentless media and financial damages.
Snapchat may not be counted as being clever (they’re 0 for 2 so far) – maybe just lucky…this time.
Making an honest mistake doesn’t have to be a PR disaster. In fact, at JOTO PR Disruptors, we can turn them into media opportunities. But before that happens, you need already be on message. Learn more about Crisis Management today!
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- Rodriguez, Salvador. “The 10 Most Spectacular PR Fails of 2016.” Inc.com. 16 Dec. 2016, inc.com/salvador-rodriguez/biggest-pr-fails-2016.html.
- Fitzpatrick, Alex. “Snapchat Is Getting Blasted Over This Controversial ‘Bob Marley’ Filter.” Time.com, 20 April 2016, time.com/4300726/snapchat-bob-marley-filter-blackface/.
- Kleeman, Sophie. “Snapchat’s Offensive ‘Bob Marley’ Filter Gives You Instant Blackface.” Gizmodo.com, 20 April 2016, gizmodo.com/snapchat-s-offensive-bob-marley-filter-gives-you-inst-1772008981.
- Opam, Kwame. “Snapchat hit with backlash for ‘yellowface’ selfie lens.” The Verge, 10 August 2016, theverge.com/2016/8/10/12423560/snapchat-anime-selfie-lens-yellowface-racism.
- Chen, Heather. “Anger over ‘racist yellowface’ Snapchat filter.” BBC.com, 11 August 2016, bbc.com/news/world-asia-37042475.