Student and community leaders take on Snapchat filter dividing Jane/Finch community

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For years, residents of the Jane/Finch community who used Snapchat were constantly reminded of pervasive negative beliefs about their home. Snapchat accepted a filter depicting the neighbourhood as divided into two sections, with a police car separating them.

Community members believed that the separation was an allusion to either gang activity or general discord rather a united, vibrant and tight-knit community, and that the depiction of a police car implied that this community requires intervention from law enforcement.

A group of community leaders who described the filter as “clearly racist” took action to have the filter removed from the popular social media platform

Tamar Faber
Tamar Faber

Tamar Faber, a York University PhD candidate in Communication & Culture and an executive graduate member of the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies (IRDL), joined Butterfly GoPaul of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Byron Gray, manager to the York U – TD Community Engagement Centre and Mohamed Ahmed, co-executive director of the youth-led Success Beyond Limits initiative, and supported community members to pressure Snapchat.

“The Snapchat concern was brought to my attention from multiple youth who use the app,” Ahmed said.

Faber, a youth culture scholar interested in the influences of social media, took particular issue with the filter, especially in the context of the rise of Black Lives Matter protests and the spotlight on the pervasiveness of police in Black and Indigenous communities around the country.

Faber argues that systemic racism of everyday life is replicated in online spaces, and that even though social media can be used for change, we also must be weary of the ways it mirrors social divisions and, in many cases, perpetuates them.

“When the filter was brought to my attention,” Faber explained, “I knew I had an opportunity to use my voice and my network to try to cut through the bureaucracy that community activists run into time after time.”

Aware of York’s important role in the Jane/Finch community and committed to using her privilege as a student to help whenever possible, Faber used her own social network through the IRDL to connect directly with a Snapchat employee.

Acting as an intermediary between Snapchat and GoPaul, Gray and Ahmed, and supported by an adamant group of York graduate students who amplified the issue on their own social media, sent emails and filed complaints with Snapchat, Faber made clear demands that the filter be taken down and residents be provided an opportunity to create their own filter.

According to Faber, the Snapchat employee they contacted understood the situation right away and was able to take down the filter, explain how it got there, pledge to provide a free geo-filter for the 2020 Walk with Excellence event and allow for a new, permanent filter to be developed.

“This is a victory for the community and a reminder that no issue is too big to tackle if the community comes together,” Faber said. “The fact that the filter was removed within hours was amazing, but the whole situation points to a larger problem.”

“People had been trying to get this done for a long time and it took me, 3someone who happened to know someone, to get in touch with the social media company,” she stated. “At the end of the day, the filter should have never been approved, but I know everyone is happy it is gone now.”

By Aaron Manton, communications officer, YFile