Lately, Snapchat’s 3D Cartoon lens has been creating a buzz, making all of our friends look like Pixar characters. But since 2013, a basic filter on the fleeting photo sharing app is the speed filter, which shows how fast a phone is moving when it takes a photo or video. Today, Snapchat confirmed that it will be removing the filter from the app.
NPR first reported it today, calling it a “dramatic reversal” of Snap’s prior defense of the feature. Over the years there have been many car accidents, injuries and fatalities related to the use of the filter. In 2016, for example, an 18-year-old took a selfie on Snapchat while driving, then hit another driver’s car at 107 miles per hour. The other driver, Maynard Wentworth, suffered traumatic brain injury and sued Snap. His lawyer said the 18-year-old was “just trying to crank the car 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.”
Snapchat filter offenses do not start and end here. Last year, on June 10, the day that commemorates the end of slavery, Snapchat posted a filter that urged users to “smile to break the chains.” On 4/20 in 2016, Snapchat teamed up with the Bob Marley estate to release a feature that gave users dreadlocks and darker skin, committing a blackface. And even after Snapchat’s speed filter was linked to fatal car crashes, it remained available in the app with a simple “don’t crack and drive” warning.
“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that we are removing it completely,” a Snap spokesperson said, adding that the feature had previously been disabled at driving speeds. . The company has started removing the filter, but it could take several weeks for it to take full effect.
Snap’s new stance comes after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May ruled that the company can be sued for its role in a fatal car crash.
Usually, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites, or “interactive computer services”, from lawsuits like this one, by protecting those platforms from third-party content posted on them. But in 2019, the parents of two children killed in crashes – Landen Brown and Hunter Morby – filed another complaint. They argued that the app’s “careless design” (including a speed filter to begin with) contributed to the crash. A California judge dismissed the case, citing Section 230, but in May this year, three judges of the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that Section 230 does not apply here. The conflict is not about Snapchat’s role as a social media platform, but rather the design of the app, which includes an obviously dangerous speed filter.
Thus, the sudden removal of the speed filter is not as random as it seems. Now that their Section 230 defense no longer exists, it makes sense that maintaining the filter is not worth the legal risk. You’d think filter crashes would have been enough for Snapchat to remove the filter years ago, but better late than never.