A weird issue was discovered in TikTok recently: the app was automatically slimming people’s faces even though no filter was enabled. The MIT Technology Review recently recounted a story from Tori Dawn, a TikTok user who noticed that their jawline seemed weirdly large when recording videos in the app. But covering most of their face with their hand triggered their jaw to revert to its normal appearance.
TikTok has since fixed the issue, but the company hasn’t elaborated on why it was happening in the first place.
“Beauty” filter — Automatically “beautifying” people’s faces is concerning to some, who say that it could change people’s perceptions of themselves and make them internalize unrealistic beauty standards or ideas about their own body image. Dawn said they liked their natural appearance and felt uncomfortable posting to TikTok while it continued to alter their face.
“My face is pretty androgynous and I like my jawline,” Dawn told MIT Technology Review. “So when I saw that it was popping in and out, I’m like ‘Why would they do that, why?’ This is one of the only things that I like about my face. Why would you do that?”
Healthy social media — In China and some other places, beauty filters are enabled by default. That includes Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Critics don’t think they should be standard, however. Social media already engenders enough insecurity as it is, as people see others’ lives through a lens only reflecting their best moments. Add to that an automatic filter suggesting a person’s face could be improved in some way, and it’s easy to see how someone could be mentally harmed. Even the term “beauty filter” itself suggests that there’s an objective standard of beauty when, as Dawn pointed out, it’s all subjective.
Social media companies have responded to concerns about their impact on mental wellbeing by promoting new tools and changes that emphasize intimate communication over popularity. Instagram, for instance, lets users hide like counts in the main feed so they aren’t comparing themselves with others.