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Snapchat Removes Māori Tattoo Filter After Backlash

Snapchat's augmented reality filters are a major draw for users of the social media app.

Snapchat’s augmented reality filters are a major draw for users of the social media app.
Image: Neilson Barnard (Getty Images)

Snapchat has come under scrutiny after a filter released on the app resembled face tattoos that are sacred to the Māori people, who are the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Snapchat and augmented reality filters go together like peanut butter and jelly—the company unveiled their augmented reality face filters as early as the autumn of 2015. The social media platform has recently come under fire, however, following an investigation by Radio New Zealand, who found a few instances of face filters that resemble the facial tattoos of the indigenous Māori people. Radio New Zealand says that these filters were designed by other users, not Snapchat, and have names like Māori Mask and Māori Face Tattoo.

“When people wear a fake Prada or Gucci bag, people are quick to call it out. However, when tauiwi create Māori art for profit, everyone thinks it’s great,” said takatāpui Māori activist Mandeno Karu Martin to Radio New Zealand. Tauiwi is a word to describe a non-Māori person. “There are people who need to take responsibility when they are using Māori culture in an international space or platform to understand that they have consequences and ramifications.”

Snap did confirm to Gizmodo via email that the two offending Snapchat filters were removed from the platform.

Snapchat filters have gotten some flack in the past. In 2016, a filter was pulled from the app after users noticed that it resembled an Asian stereotype. Similarly, a Juneteenth filter was removed from the app in June 2020—the filter asked users to smile, which triggered an animation of chains breaking behind them.

Snapchat does allow users to submit their own designs for filters, much the same way Instagram does, and lens creators can make a pretty penny for their designs. So while it may be easy for the company to pass the burden of responsibility over problematic filters onto these creators, they do hold the burden of moderating content before it’s released onto the platform.

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