Instagram photo-editing app, Gradient, comes under fire for its racially insensitive features that supports blackface

Instagram photo-editing app, Gradient, comes under fire for its racially insensitive features that supports blackface

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Text: Cheryl Lai-Lim

Image: Gradient

In the fight for change and solidarity standing against systemic racism and colourism, there will always be a few who are tone-deaf and misaligned, despite the outpouring of resources and educational tools available. Joining the list of those who are problematical and lack commitment to aid in this fight for justice is one particular photo editing app, Gradient.

Besides offering up run-of-the-mill photo editing tools and filters, the app has recently launched a new controversial feature, AI Face. According to their website, this feature supposedly allows users to 'find out how you would look if you were born on a different continent'. Using artificial intelligence, users are able to 'alter' their ethnicities with 'continent' filters. This feature is disturbingly contentious as it not only perpetuates dehumanising stereotypes, but is also racist as it allows Gradient users to portray (digital) blackface, brownface and yellowface. The act of blackface, brownface, yellowface or any other portrayal of a skin tone that is not theirs is demeaning and offensive as these users have not faced the same struggles and oppression as the ethnicity that is not theirs.

In another bizarre demonstration of insensitivity and lack of perception, the feature was promoted on social media by Keeping Up with the Kardashians stars, Scott Disick and Brody Jenner, who altered themselves to natives of 'Africa', 'Asia', 'India' and 'Europe' with the app. After receiving a flood of backlash from Twitter, the tweets were deleted before being re-uploaded with an added hashtag to indicate the sponsored content. Comments on the posts have been disabled on both Twitter and Instagram. Besides condemning the two celebrities for their lack of racial sensitivity and awareness, users on social media were also quick to point out inaccuracies within the feature, such as the geographical blunder (India is part of Asia, FYI), and the fact that ethnicity and nationality holds different meanings.

This is not the first time that the app is inundated in controversy. Last year, the app's celebrity lookalike feature was endorsed by other members of the Kardashian clan, leading to a wide number of downloads. The viral feature, allowing users to check out their celebrity doppelgänger, exploded all over Instagram feeds. However, questions were soon brought up regarding the app's privacy policy when the app was found storing users' photos. Users also discovered themselves getting pulled into the app's automatic renewing subscription scheme, which automatically charged the users a hefty amount without explicit consent. The app's other feature, Ethnicity Estimate, which is able to 'tell your ethnic background' and 'estimate your DNA ancestry', was also previously promoted by Kim Kardashian under a paid ad tweet earlier this year.

Gradient has yet to respond or make a statement regarding its controversies.

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