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Snapchat (#BlackCodeStudies, #femDH)

We had quite a bit of fun with Snapchat at #femDH. Our exercise was simple–in your groups, sign on to Snapachat (or download it if you don’t have it already) and spend a few minutes playing with the app. It took no time at all for participants to begin to play with the platform’s lens feature (known to the rest of us as filters) to create videos and images:

A few things:

  1. Snapchat’s lens, at least in June of 2017, allowed users to costume themselves in a wide range of ways, from animals to gender bending to alien creatures. This allowed us to have a conversation about gender, gender presentation, and sexuality in the course.
  2. Some things in #dh must be experienced to be learned. The physical computing exercise with the Ardouin tools was more similar to the Snapchat exercise than participants expected. Both required us to put our hands on tools and access our affective range–get frustrated, feel vain, feel insecure, get pleasure–from the tool and from the doing before we could get the point. #BlackCodeStudies centers affect as a black queer femme space for intellectual production and theorizing and political power and thus gives us a way to think about what and where this happens in the digital and with our technology.
  3. Social media is it’s own practice, praxis, labor, and engagement. Even knowing how to swipe or press on the screen when using Snapchat was a form of embodied knowledge that must be appreciated and certainly factored into how we engage digital things today. Again – #blackcodestudies does this work.
  4. Mobile device and apps can’t be sidelined in our digital work any more than social media can. Again – #blackcodestudies does this work and has been since PEW began following black and Latinx youth mobile use around 2010 and discovered that upwards of 90% of these teens access the internet on their devices (the most recent reports here). In #femDH this year, we had to have a serious conversation about the effectiveness (and the audience) of our digital projects, tools, teaching, etc. if we are only accessible on desktops and the people we want to reach are increasingly not using them.
  5. Finally, any lesson on Snapchat lens wouldn’t be complete without learning something more about the facial recognition software itself–proprietary knowledge and what we can or cannot know from a Google search about the apps we use, whose faces get recognized, Snapchat’s learning curve which benefitted from Google’s folly introducing facial recognition software that once upon a time didn’t recognize dark faces (Simone Browne cites these cases extensively in Dark Matters), and what it ultimately means that police, defense and military organizations–whose metadata for people of color already defaults to criminal, threat, expendable, and whose run function already plays a script that assaults, incarcerates or kills black and brown people without pause–also have access to this technology.

More on those fun filters:

The Inner Workings Of Snapchat’s Faceswap Technology

A Look at How Snapchat’s Powerful Facial Recognition Tech Works

Snapchat Acquires Looksery To Power Its Animated Lenses | TechCrunch

How to Get Snapchat’s Lenses

Snapchat Support

Snapchat – Wikipedia (The history of tech community editing Wikipedia keeps rather detailed pages when it comes to most digital and technology topics, including social media apps. But take it all with a grain of salt. Tech history on Wikipedia tends to be rather self-congratulatory and less critical of itself and its origins than it should be. We discussed this in #femDH and in the Spring 2017 #BlackCodeStudies course, assisted by Shannon Simpson, brilliant librarian at JHU, who walked us through what is and isn’t considered a valid topic on the site.)

ps. We did not get into Instagram! Next time….