TikTok added beauty filters to peoples' faces without permission

Were you affected by the glitch?

by Douglas Greenwood
14 June 2021, 12:02pm

Image viaTori Dawn/TikTok

The era of the polished Insta-influencer is starting to feel like it’s over, with TikTok, the platform for people’s makeup-less monologues and self-deprecating humour, becoming social media’s dominant platform. But it seems like some users have encountered a sinister glitch in the system that suggests otherwise: TikTok appeared to add beauty filters to some peoples’ faces without asking permission.

The bug, highlighted by Technology Review, affected mainly Android users in May 2021. Some influential figures on the platform, like the fitness influencer Tori Dawn, made videos highlighting the way a beauty filter that feminised and slimmed user’s faces was being automatically applied, even when no filters were activated.

Comments on Tori’s video, which addressed the ways in which her face was slimmed by the automatic filter, pointed out how dangerous this could be for young people’s body image and self-perception: “I’m surprised more people aren’t upset about it,” @8o1.lizzy said. “It’s been really screwing with my self image.” Another, @keithinthe_flesh said: “I almost had a panic attack bc [sic] of it earlier.” Several other users stitched Tori’s videos with their own proof of the filter being automatically applied too.

Abby Ohlheiser, who wrote the original report for Technology Review, reached out to TikTok, only to find the glitch had been amended two days later. The issue appeared to be a temporary glitch. It’s unclear how many TikTok users, many of whom may have issues tied to their appearance, were affected by this creepy error.

Of course, the positive effects of filter-making are plentiful; it’s become an art form for a new generation of digital designers. But if you are not given the option to disable them, you risk fuelling a culture of dysphoric body image and warped self perception. 

In a time when we get enough of that from the already pervasive world of influencers and flawless celebrity, a default desire for tech companies to change how their users look risks us all feeling unhappy with ourselves in the real world. Sure, the beauty filter bug was just that — a bug — but when it’s affecting millions of people, there’s no reason why it should be treated any differently to a security breach. Both are dangerous. 

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