Snapchat Pulls Juneteenth Lens From Its Platform, Apologizes

Users were encouraged to smile, which would break chains

Snap said the lens was not approved through its review process Mark Luckie/Snap Inc.
Headshot of David Cohen

Snap Inc. apologized for a since-removed lens that was intended to commemorate Juneteenth but missed its mark.

The lens had the Pan-African flag as a backdrop and prompted Snapchatters to smile, which caused chains to appear and then break.

Digital strategist Mark Luckie—who worked at Facebook, Reddit and Twitter in recent years, after journalism roles with outlets including The Washington Post, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times—was among those who called out Snapchat Friday morning, sharing a video of the lens in a tweet.

A spokesperson for Snap Inc. said, “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.”

UPDATED: Snap Inc. vice president of diversity and inclusion Oona King addressed the controversy in an internal email obtained by Casey Newton of The Verge and confirmed by the company.

She wrote, in part, “After reviewing how the process unfolded, it’s very clear that Black Snap team members were fully involved in every stage of developing and approving the lens and that, in hindsight, we should have developed a more appropriate lens … For the record, and the avoidance of all doubt: The two Snap team members who on separate occasions specifically questioned if the ‘smile’ trigger was appropriate for Juneteenth were two white team members. The Snap team members who suggested the smile trigger to begin with, and said it was acceptable to use, were Black Snap team members and/or members of my team.”

She added, “We feel it is perfectly acceptable as Black people to celebrate the end of slavery—as we do with picnics, BBQs, street parties and other forms of celebration across America—and say, ‘Smile! Happy Juneteenth; we’re no longer enslaved! But we’re not yet really free, either!’ However for a white person to tell a Black person: ‘Smile! You’re no longer slaves’ is offensive in the extreme. I’m hoping many people will understand how the same word can be appropriate in one context, but inappropriate in another, depending on who is using it. Regardless, we should not have used smiling as a trigger to break the chains of slavery in the lens, and we understand why that was offensive.”

Snapchat had a similar issue in 2016, when it was panned for releasing a Bob Marley lens April 20 of that year, both for appearing to associate Marley with marijuana culture on its biggest day of the year and for using the digital equivalent of blackface. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.