Snapchat removes moko, mataora tattoo filters after NZ outcry

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Moko montage
Image filters that apply "Māori tattoos" have been condemned as culturally inappropriate in a backlash against Snapchat and Instagram. Image: RNZ

RNZ News

Social media platform Snapchat has removed a feature that allowed users to apply traditional Māori tattoos on their faces.

The filters were pulled after their discovery prompted an outcry in the Māori community.

Māori consider moko and mataora as sacred, and it is taken as an important marker of the wearer’s identity.

The move follows reports that the filters were proliferating on social media.

RNZ News earlier reported images of users applying filters with names like “Māori Face Tattoo” and “Māori” on popular photo platform Instagram.

A statement from Snap, which owns the Snapchat platform, confirmed that the filter and a duplicate had been removed from their platform.

Snapchat filters, which the company refers to as Lenses, uses open-source software Looksery that allows users to modify their features in real time. Lenses are user-generated and can be freely shared and used by others on the platform.

Community guidelines
“We encourage our community to create Lenses that are inclusive and any shared on Snapchat must comply with our community guidelines,” Snap said in the statement.

“These are clear that we prohibit content that demeans, defames, or promotes discrimination.”

Meta, which owns Instagram, had not responded by the time of publication.

Facial tattoos, or moko, have been a part of Māori culture for centuries.

Tā moko (Māori tattoo) and tatau are unique expressions of whakapapa and identity. They are ancient symbols tied to genealogy, with patterns that vary from hapū to hapū.

Facial patterns are also gendered, with men’s tattoos extending from forehead to throat, while women’s tattoos usually extend from the lips to the chin.

As a result, no two tattoos are identical and the mass application of the same filter across many different social media users’ faces contributed to the outcry.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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