Sometimes it’s easy to do the right thing, and you get all the pride and happiness that comes along with it.
Other times, doing the right thing is hard. It can take you away from what everyone else is doing, maybe even cause you to lose friends-or a platform for your voice to be heard.
During those times, is it still worth it?
As a team, we’ve decided that the answer to this is yes.
Doing the right thing-even when it’s hard or when no one would otherwise notice- is one of our 10 strongly held values at Buffer.
So when we face the choice between saying nothing and speaking up when we see something that feels wrong, we have to speak up.
Similarly, we feel a calling to be transparent about our decisions so that others can learn the “why” behind our actions. We share transparently not to bring attention to ourselves but rather to be true to ourselves, to share knowledge with our community, and to ignite conversation.
These values have been at the front of our minds these past few days as we’ve reflected on one of social media’s biggest stories. Last week, Snapchat users called out the social network for its recent release of an “anime-inspired” filter that slants your eyes, rounds your cheeks, and exaggerates your front teeth.
We can’t know the intentions behind this filter, but we can know how the social media app’s option to superimpose stereotypical Asian features, or “yellowface,” onto peoples’ faces made many of their Asian and Asian-American users feel.
Mocked. Minimized. Singled out. Othered. Shamed.
In a statement to The Guardian, Snapchat said the “anime-inspired lens” has been removed and wouldn’t be put back into circulation, adding that “lenses are meant to be playful and never to offend.”
A removal and apology is a great step. We’ve made many missteps in our own diversity and inclusivity journey, and it feels good to acknowledge them and learn from them.
But what happens following Snapchat’s apology?
Only four months ago, the company released another racially problematic filter that superimposed Bob Marley dreadlocks and what many users described as a “digital blackface” on photos. These matters of race, diversity, and inclusion are ones that we’re all doing our best to navigate as we build products supported by a worldwide audience. We empathize with the Snapchat team; we’ve made mistakes at Buffer, too.
As fellow product makers, we acknowledge the hard work that the Snapchat team has done to build a product loved by millions. They all wake up every day trying to build something people love and will be excited by.
And having done so – having built a product with velocity and relevance – they’ve inevitably gained new responsibilities.
Those who are privileged enough to build our social media platforms have a hand in shaping our culture – for better or worse.
In an essay at The Atlantic, associate editor Robinson Meyer introduces an important responsibility held by the influential apps within the tech scene:
You are a small though extraordinarily wealthy technology company, afloat in a sea filled with other such companies. Some are larger than you, and some are wealthier. People in your industry use language that touches on noble virtues and planet-wide connection. But in practice, you profit from a society layered with different kinds of oppression and discrimination. You have to decide how to use your wealth and power in a world that consistently falls short. What is your duty?
One approach to this problem might be: Do no harm.
Snapchat is one of the most popular social networks in the world and is especially popular with young people ages 18–34. This gives the app an incredible amount of opportunity for shaping cultural norms and attitudes. It’s hard to reconcile that opportunity with filters like “yellowface” that normalize racism and othering, creating a climate of more division and less empathy.
Within the lens of social media, these outcomes of division run counter to our mission at Buffer. We seek to help people achieve a greater voice on social media. We believe that social media builds connections, encourages expression, and expands our world. Social media, for us, exists to bring people together, not drive people away.
As a social media tool, Snapchat has so much promise and we’ve enjoyed getting to know it. We have built a community there that we love.
But diversity and inclusion are not optional for us-they’re imperative. We want to align ourselves with people and companies working toward the positive change we envision social media making in our world.
We understand fully why users might delete Snapchat, and we support their decision. For those those who wish to stay, we respect your decision as well. At Buffer, we’ll be taking a leave of absence to reflect and determine the right path forward. As always, our decision is not the “right” one-our values are a guide for us but aren’t intended to be prescriptive for others.
We truly believe that people and companies can evolve and grow in their understanding of diversity and inclusion. We’re all still learning ourselves.
We’re hopeful that this will be Snapchat’s path, and we would be excited to aid their journey in any way we might be able to.