Snap’s head of diversity apologises for ‘break the chains’ Juneteenth lens

22 Jun 2020

Image: © Robert Kneschke/

Snap’s head of diversity has apologised for the release of a Snapchat filter to mark Juneteenth that many users found offensive.

Snap’s vice-president of diversity and inclusion, Oona King, said in an internal email to staff that her team failed to recognise the gravity of a new Snapchat lens released for Juneteenth, the day to mark the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the US.

The lens asked users to “smile and break the chains” of slavery, but quickly saw backlash from users and critics who accused Snap of being tone deaf to the problem of systemic racism and potentially lacking diversity in its design team.

On Friday, (19 June), Snapchat apologised for the lens, saying a version was released that had not been approved through its review process.

In the email seen by The Verge, King said that while a diverse group had worked on the filter, she and her team “failed to recognise the gravity of the ‘smile’ trigger”.

“We reviewed the lens from the standpoint of black creative content, made by and for black people, so did not adequately consider how it would look when used by non-black members of our community,” she wrote.

“What we also did not fully realise was a) that a ‘smile’ trigger would necessarily include the actual word ‘smile’ on the content; and b) that people would perceive this as work created by white creatives, not black creatives.”

‘Taught us a valuable lesson’

King pushed back against the perception put forward on social media that this was a decision taken by white executives without including black perspectives. In the email, she said claims about Snap staff being culturally insensitive or racist were “completely untrue”.

“We are building a culture where we confront and acknowledge our errors so that we can learn, improve and grow together,” she wrote.

“This mistake has taught us a valuable lesson, and I am sincerely sorry that it came at the expense of what we meant to be a respectful commemoration of this important day.”

Snap has also received criticism for not following many other major US tech companies in releasing diversity reports. Earlier this month, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said in an all-hands meeting with staff that the company will continue to keep its diversity statistics private as they would reinforce the idea that minority groups are not represented in the tech industry.

In a transcript of the meeting seen by Business Insider, Spiegel said Snap will be working on its “own new version of a diversity report”, but did not go into more detail. It came after a number of former employees accused the company of being racially biased in editorial decisions.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic