When smartphones began featuring front-facing cameras around the 2010s, selfies quickly exploded in popularity. In fact, in 2013, the Oxford Dictionary crowned selfie the word of the year. Selfies were being shared via texts to friends and family members, posted on social media, featured in magazines, and more.
Now, a decade after their mainstream introduction, the traditional selfie has been upgraded with the addition of augmented reality face filters. These face filters are used to edit or alter users’ appearances and are highly prevalent on social media, notably Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. How do these filters work, why are they exploding in popularity, and what impact have they had on society? We explain all this below.
The beginning of the face filter craze can be traced back to 2015 when Snapchat released its version of face filters, which they dubbed Lenses. When Lenses first became available, users were predominantly using them comedically and for entertainment purposes. For example, one of the initial Lenses transformed users’ faces into a dog, while another Lens allowed users to vomit rainbows. However, the current trend for face filters is no longer fun and quirky transformations, but instead what is referred to as ‘beauty filters,’ which we will discuss later on.
Facebook and Instagram jumped on the face filter trend and released their versions in 2017. Over time, face filters grew in popularity, and more options became available. The filters could initially only be created and released by Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. However, starting in 2018, all three platforms began allowing third parties to develop face filters for public consumption. Since then, countless filters have been designed between all three platforms, with Snapchat experiencing more than one million Lenses created.
Face Filters rely on augmented reality technology. Augmented reality is defined as enhancing the physical world by incorporating digital elements in real-time to create a 3D experience. To get face filters to work, the platforms combine the augmented reality technology with face detection software. Therefore, once a face is detected, the augmented reality virtual components are then added to the screen overlaid to the user’s face and the surrounding area.
The technology behind the filters has improved vastly since their inception. The first filters released had a slew of issues, including not recognizing faces, not staying on users’ faces when they moved, containing low-quality graphics, glitching, and more, making using them cumbersome. However, over the past few years, the filters have become much more advanced, and those issues have decreased tremendously.
Part of what entices users to engage with face filters is the wide variety of filters. The different categories of face filters include….
These filters have influenced new ways for people to digitally communicate with each other, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, people would commonly Snapchat their friends what they were doing. However, since COVID has people staying home more than ever, people are now finding entertainment by exploring and sending Snapchats with different face filters to their friends. They enable users to switch up how they appear with a few taps, ushering variety and freshness to a year where every day seems the same.
There has been increasing coverage of face filters causing adverse side effects to individuals who use them, as well as users who are being exposed to others using them on social media. The main criticism has to do with what’s known as beauty filters. Beauty filters are heavily targeted towards females and are promoted as filters that make users more attractive.
The filters alter users’ appearances by making lips and eyes larger, the nose smaller, smoothing and evening skin tone, and removing blemishes. Some filters also make it look like the user is wearing a full face of professional makeup by adding eyeliner, blush, lipstick, elongating eyelashes, and more.
When it comes to the more ‘natural-looking’ filters and beauty filters, it can be challenging for users to identify when someone is using one. The line between reality and illusion is becoming blurred as filters become more advanced and therefore appear more realistic. This further perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards, while deceiving users into believing others appear this way in real-life. When in reality, people are using beauty filters to achieve their desired look.
Additionally, these filters are available to everyone on the apps. Thus, teens and children can access these filters that may negatively impact their self-esteem. Even if users opt not to use these filters, they are still flooded with these images by influencers, celebrities, and their peers. Therefore, users are constantly being exposed to these altered images that are only achievable through technology or, in some cases, plastic surgery.
Augmented reality face filters are changing not only how people look but how people communicate and interact. From making friends laugh with silly animal Lenses, to influencers using beauty face filters, augmented reality is altering the social media landscape. With these face filters continuing to grow in popularity, it will be interesting to see how they continue to evolve and improve.