Snapchat apologized for its insensitive Juneteenth filter that asked users to smile to break chains and removed it from the platform on Friday. 

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Celebrated on June 19, it marks the day Major General Gordon Granger and Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with federal orders that declared enslaved people free. 

It carries extra weight this year as protests against systemic racism this month have amplified calls for it to become a federal holiday. In response, several major companies have given employees a paid day off, but it’s still not an official holiday.  

Which is why Snapchat’s bizarre Juneteenth filter seemed especially out of touch. The controversy comes just weeks after ex-Snapchat employees told Mashable that the company’s editorial practices were racially biased. 

The filter, which the company took down on Friday, prompted users to smile. When they did, broken chains would appear on the Pan-African flag behind them. Black Twitter users voiced their discomfort. 

This Snapchat #Juneteenth filter is…um…interesting.

Smile to break the chains? Okay then.

4,387 4:48 PM – Jun 19, 2020

1,549 people are talking about this

Hi, I’m Kel, and my Black life matters. @YummiKoko69

So Snapchat made a Juneteenth filter… I dunno how to feel about it.

320 3:26 PM – Jun 19, 2020

173 people are talking about this

The company apologized for the insensitive filter and told CNBC that although a “diverse group” of its developers were involved in the process, the final product was not approved through Snapchat’s review process. 

Here’s the full statement to CNBC: 

“We deeply apologize to the members of the Snapchat community who found this Lens offensive. A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing the concept, but a version of the Lens that went live for Snapchatters this morning had not been approved through our review process. We are investigating why this mistake occurred so that we can avoid it in the future.” 

Snapchat came under fire in 2016 for creating filters that whitewashed skin, gave users slanted eyes, and applied blackface

After the complaints from former employees surfaced, Snapchat said it has taken steps to improve its workplace culture. It hired a vice president of diversity and inclusion last year and CEO Evan Spiegel supported the Black Lives Matter movement in a memo to staff earlier this month.

But those efforts didn’t prevent another racially-charged misstep.

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