On Friday, the social media platform released a new lens in honour of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day that slavery in the US ended, that prompted users to smile to break chains.
When using the filter, which was set against a backdrop of a Pan-African flag, users saw virtual chains rise above their heads, which were then broken when they smiled.
Shortly after the filter was released, users accused the company of being “tone-deaf”.
“Please tell me the Juneteenth filter on Snapchat does not have CHAINS,” one person tweeted.
Another said: “This Snapchat #Juneteenth filter prompts users to smile to break the chains… Unfortunately, this sadly indicates how their team lacks the diversity required to curb this implicit bias. Tech startups, please diversify your talent.”
Multimedia designer Ashten Winger, who previously worked at Snapchat as a developer, was among those criticising the filter, writing on Twitter: “This is what happens when you don’t have any black people on the product design team.
“As a Snap alumni, this is extremely embarrassing. It doesn’t have to be this hard – how about an AR experience to inform your 229 million daily active users what Juneteenth is?”
In a statement to The Independent, Snapchat apologised to those who were offended by the lens and said that a “diverse group of Snap team members were involved” in the development of the filter, but that the version that went live had not gone through the company’s review process.
“We deeply apologise to the members of the Snapchat community who found this lens offensive,” the company said. “A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing this 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.”
This is not the first time Snapchat has faced criticism over filters deemed racially insensitive.
In 2016, the company released a Bob Marley-inspired filter that darkened the user’s skin and added dreadlocks, according to Variety, before releasing a filter later that year that “pulled down users’ eyes into slanted lines, enlarged their cheeks and made their front teeth more prominent if smiling”.