As if FaceApp, the app that allows you to see what you would look like if you were old or of the opposite gender, wasn’t weird enough, they’ve now added a heavy dose of racism to their lineup of horrifying filters.
That’s right, the app’s latest update, which was first flagged by Mic, offers “Caucasian,” “Asian,” “Indian,” and “Black” filters, altering selfies with “ethnic” features that are essentially a four-pack of insanely racist imagery. FaceApp is so excited about this it’s actually sending alerts out to its users.
In the name of self-loathing journalism and also curiosity about what these filters look like on people of color (blah blah hypocrisy), I downloaded FaceApp and applied the filters.
The results were horrifying. (Ed. note: I initially included the results in this post, along with the results from some of my colleagues, but they were so terrible and discomfiting that I removed them and am instead just describing the horror for you.) The “Caucasian” filter gave me an unnatural pinkish hue, and added wrinkles under my eyes and along my smile lines. The “Asian” filter softened my features, broadening my nose a little and flattening my bulgy eyes. The “black” filter darkened my skin, also broadened my nose, thinned out my eyebrows, and puffed my lips up. The “Indian” filter was practically the same as the original selfie.
What was clear is that the app essentially takes the rudimentary and stereotypical imagery of ethnic monoliths (like “Asian”) that barely string billions of people together, and pastes them them on your face. It’s just depressing and also incredibly disgusting.
Seriously, this thing is extremely fucked up.
I’m sure FaceApp is banking on the morbid fascination of seeing ourselves in different iterations, giving people a way to live out the strange fantasy of finding the living doppelgänger we all are statistically likely to have. But giving people the platform and tools to literally wear blackface, brownface, and yellowface without any cultural context is, to put it mildly, disturbing. These things are real, and really damaging. They’re not a joke. People still wear blackface for fun, and the media still has no problems applying racist stereotypes to people of color. Given the backlash that followed Snapchat’s Bob Marley blackface filter and “anime”-inspired yellowface one, FaceApp should have known better.
The inclusion of the Caucasian filter will probably be used to argue that the app isn’t prejudiced against people of color. But there’s not an immense history of the images of white people being mocked like there is for black, Asian, and South Asian people. This is not an even playing field.
The filters are racist in an American context, and a global one—colorism and the degradation of darkness is a worldwise issue. So uh, no thanks.
I have reached out to FaceApp for comment and will update this story if I hear back.
Update, 1:45 PM: Yaroslav Goncharov, founder and CEO of FaceApp (according to LinkedIn) responded to our request for comment, explaining that the filters aren’t racist because they appear in random order and therefore no race is favored:
The ethnicity change filters have been designed to be equal in all aspects. They don’t have any positive or negative connotations associated with them. They are even represented by the same icon. In addition to that, the list of those filters is shuffled for every photo, so each user sees them in a different order.
Update, 5:31 PM: So long, racist filters!