Snapchat in Hot Water over Dangerous, Offensive and Copycat ‘Lenses’

Over the last few weeks, it’s safe to say that Snapchat doesn’t seem to have had a good time of it. Three different stories have come out about the controversy that their ‘lenses’, filters that can be put over any photo a user takes using the app, have stirred up.

Two stories revolve around the limited edition lenses that lets users project an image over their own face in selfies. On the 20th April, the company released a filter that allowed users to paste the face of singer Bob Marley over their own. Users were quick to condemn the move as racism, with Twitter user @QMVIA asking: ‘How many more times will racism be brushed off for entertainment or amusement?’ It was also pointed out that releasing the lens on April 20th, a date popularly associated with the use of marijuana, was particularly tasteless.

Then, earlier this month, another lens was added that let users project a multi coloured, geometric pattern onto their face. It was popular at first, until several different people online began pointing out that it looked a lot like their own artwork. However, most users said that the lens looked almost identical to independent artist Alexander Khokhlov’s work from his ‘2D or not 2D’ series, where he painted a model’s face in several different designs. One of his works is almost identical to the Snapchat lens, down to the colour pattern and shapes used.

Khokhlov's work is on the left, the Snapchat filter is on the right.

Khokhlov’s work is on the left, the Snapchat filter is on the right.

Snapchat never admitted to using Khokhlov’s work without his permission or payment, but the lens was quickly removed due to the similarity.

Finally, the most serious story to come from Snapchat: one teenager’s dangerous use of the speed lens. Most Snapchat users know that there’s a filter that tracks how fast the user was going at the time of the picture. Georgia, USA teenager Christal McGee was using Snapchat while driving her car as she was trying to get to 100 miles per hour. As she did so, she crashed into Uber driver Wentworth Maynard, who suffered critical injuries and now needs constant care. His family is now suing McGee and Snapchat itself. They argue that Snapchat should have known that putting such a lens in users’ hands meant that they were intentionally putting people in danger.

While the face lens were certainly ill thought out, and offensive at worst, the car crash between McGee and Maynard is arguably not Snapchat’s fault, as most responsible drivers know their phone should not be in their hand while driving. However, it does raise questions about how they run the app itself. Did they know that they were using someone else’s artwork, or potentially being offensive? Either way, they’ll have to step carefully in the coming months to ensure their name isn’t synonymous with controversy again.

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