Spark AR, the platform behind the development of many of Instagram’s popular face filters, has just announced via its Facebook group that it will “remove all effects associated with plastic surgery from the Instagram Effect Gallery”.
Citing a desire to better promote positive well-being among Instagram and Facebook users, the announcement comes as a shock to many who use the filters just for fun and to express their creativity. Both filter developers and Instagram users are frustrated with the platform for “censoring” self-expression and imagination.
Others however see this move as a step in the right direction for Instagram. The company has faced significant criticism in recent years for facilitating an environment online that promotes a toxic and unrealistic sense of body image. The announcement has been praised by many who see it as looking out for more vulnerable individuals, such as teens and those who suffer from body dysphoric disorder. These young people see unrealistic images of celebrities such as Kylie Jenner or Cardi B, and they begin to feel even worse about their appearance.
There has been limited research though about the effects of plastic surgery filters on an individual’s decision to go under the knife in real life. For those considering the prospect of undergoing cosmetic surgery, an AR option on social media is actually a safe and easy way to see how it might look before contacting a surgeon. However, with the filters no longer available on social media, plastic surgery Denver clinics could see an increase in potential patients wanting a “see it first” AR option before getting the real deal.
The Origins of Spark AR
For those who haven’t heard about Spark AR before, here’s an overview of what the platform is.
Originally launched on Facebook in 2017, the software’s beta program was initially designed to enable a limited set of brands and designers to develop their own augmented reality (AR) effects for mobile cameras. Similar to the infamous dog ears on Snapchat, however now AR filters could easily be designed by this select group to promote their social media presence.
In the beginning, anyone could apply to join as a designer, however applicants had to be officially accepted into the program. The initial rollout was well received, with Facebook having reported in a press release that, “More than 1 billion people have used AR effects and filters powered by Spark AR on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Portal”.
The AR Expansion for Creators
This all changed on August 13 of this year, when Facebook announced that it was expanding the platform. Now anyone, anywhere in the world, could begin to develop and publish their own custom AR filters on Instagram – without prior approval to the platform.
Considering the millions of artists and content creators who use Instagram to express themselves and promote their work, this news exploded. Anyone could now design and publish any filter they wanted; enabling more people to have the tools necessary to make a real difference and set themselves apart in cyberspace. Any designers’ unique filters can now be found at the bottom of their profiles on the Instagram mobile app, and can be accessed by friends and followers to use for fun.
To help promote up and coming artists in AR effects, Instagram also introduced the new “Effect Gallery”. This gallery allows Instagram users to explore and discover new effects within the community of filter creators.
Since the expansion, the reception among AR designers has been overwhelmingly positive.
Designers were thrilled to have the opportunity to experiment with this new technology and express themselves in a new way. Graphic design and advertising student, Aliya Ataulove (@whiteabysses) reported to Facebook that she “sees AR as fundamental to the future of art creation”.
Another creator, Luke Hurd (@lukehurd) was happy with the new creator studio, however he advised creators to, “be a good steward to the technology and understand that you’re carrying this thing to the future of society”.
Announcement on October 18: Banning plastic surgery Denver filters
Hurd’s statement appears to be ringing truer than ever, with Spark AR recently announcing on the 18 of October that the company is “re-evaluating our existing policies as they relate to well-being”.
In the company’s Facebook group for creators, the announcement goes on to outline three specific actions that the company will take which includes:
- “Removing all effects associated with plastic surgery from the Instagram Effect Gallery”.
- “Postponing approval of new effects associated with plastic surgery until further notice” and
- “Continuing to remove policy violating effects as they are identified.”
The company informed creators that this new policy will “result in increased review times and a delay in effect approvals” and apologized for any inconvenience. Though the company did not give a specific timeline of the full rollout, it did reassure creators that they will share any further developments and updates as soon as possible.
Filters Rumored to be Banned
While the company did not announce which specific filters it intends to remove, several outlets have made speculations. One filter that will likely be cut is called “Plastica”, which was famously used by influencer, Cheila Navarro, and appears to make the user look like they have had an unnatural facelift.
Another filter rumored to be banned is “Bad Botox”, which makes users look like they have injected an abnormal amount of Botox into their face. The filter “Fix Me” is also likely to be banned, given it mocks up the users face with a sharpie; similar to what a plastic surgeon would do before conducting a facelift.
Not all filters will be banned, however, and both creators and influencers are encouraged to continue to have fun and be creative with other filters that do not promote a negative body image. For example, fun filters like the puppy faces, flower crowns, and glittery masks can all still be used – and there is tremendous scope for creativity in the future as long as developers are in line with Instagram’s well-being guidelines.
Other Announcements and Restricted Content on Instagram
This recent announcement by Spark AR is not the first announcement Instagram has made affecting the plastic surgery and cosmetic industries. Back in September, the platform announced that it was restricting the promotion of plastic surgery services on Facebook and Instagram by prohibiting advertising to young people under the age of 18.
Additionally, certain weight loss products advertisements were also restricted by disallowing the use of certain aggressive incentives for purchasing the product. These companies are also no longer allowed to make “miraculous claims” about their products, for example by prohibiting paid endorsers from claiming to lose an unrealistic amount of weight in a short period of time.
The company is also toying with the idea of doing away with “vanity” metrics on Instagram globally; having already rolled out a test in certain countries that removes the “like” button on news-feed posts. This is aimed to refocus the users’ attention away from worrying about how many people like their post and instead encourage them to continue to create high quality, engaging content.
It is likely the company may roll out other content restrictions, considering Instagram has clearly made mental health and well-being a top priority in 2019. With more and more research being conducted on the topic, the platform will likely use this research and feedback to inform future decisions.
The Research Behind Social Media and Well-being
Are the new restrictions warranted? There is one published academic study that examined the “Effects of social media use on desire for cosmetic surgery among young women”. Authored by a collaboration of researchers from University College London and The University of Illinois, the study did show evidence that younger girls and women are “highly more likely to want a cosmetic procedure if they spend lots of time on social media.”
Instagram was also scrutinized back in 2017 by a UK snapshot survey that found among young people aged 14-24, Instagram was rated as the “worst social media platform” when it comes to mental health.
Because the widespread use of social media is a relatively new phenomenon, it will take several more years until researchers have a more definitive answer about the impact it can have on mental health. Until then, Instagram and other social media platforms will have to self-regulate and foster an environment that is healthy for everyone.
Conflicting Perspectives: Mental Health vs. Creativity
Among AR creators, Spark AR’s announcement in its creator Facebook group did not go without serious criticism from the community; with one user stating that the new rules were, “Unfair for all creators that have already done masks with deformation!”. The user then points the finger at software like Facetune and Photoshop, stating, “If you want to make Instagram a better place – delete every account that is posting super edited body and face pics – it is a bigger problem”.
Another commentator chimed in saying, “So do we ban people from FaceTuning their Instagram photos too?”. Others joked about whether the use of makeup should be banned.
Another interesting perspective was highlighted by one commentator who said, “Quick thought, for those that have plastic surgery in real life, are their faces now “wrong” according to Facebook? Could this be seen as a type of body shaming?”.
Impact on the Plastic Surgery Industry
For plastic surgery Denver clinics, this announcement could potentially impact the demand for their services or the technologies they use to help clients – though it is too early to tell what this may look like.
For some individuals, the use of Instagram has directly influenced their decision to get cosmetic surgery and with the platform’s likely continued rollout of restrictions, this number could decrease. However, with the increased buzz around the topic of plastic surgery, the initiative could likely have the opposite effect and inspire more people to consider it. The buzz could also pave the way for plastic surgery clinics to develop their own AR technologies that enable patients to see what they will look like after surgery.