When I first discovered Snapchat filters, my friends and husband and I entertained ourselves for hours, taking goofy videos and seeing what we’d look like with each other’s faces or as a puppy. But one journalist in India has harnessed this popular Snapchat feature for a larger and more serious purpose: to empower rape survivors to speak out about their assault.
Yusuf Omar, an editor of Hindustan Times, discovered that using the filters was a very accessible way to disguise someone’s face, while filming open and honest interview coverage.
It was especially useful when Omar was covering India’s first Climb Against Sexual Abuse, and climbed the Chamundi Hills with 50 young people in a bid to raise awareness and undo the taboo and stigma around sexual violence. He only had to bring along his iPhone 6 and a selfie stick. The interviewees had a choice of the filters and chose to transform their appearance with a fire-breathing dragon filter.
Omar said that the complex face-mapping software technology used by Snapchat can have serious applications for journalism, “Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying ‘yes, we will blur you afterwards’, so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative.” Omar found that Snapchat’s filters enabled him to get raw, emotional interviews with the young survivors taking part in the climb.
For some of the interviews, Omar had the interviewees tell their stories alone, speaking to the camera without anyone else around. “Using the inside camera, they felt like they were just looking in a mirror and recalling their experiences – and there was something so personal and sincere about that.”
The advanced face-mapping technology of the filters allow the eyes and expressions of the interviewees to be seen, which played an essential part in helping to tell their stories without giving away their identities.
Omar published the Snapchat videos to his Snapchat account, but also saved them and used them on other social platforms like Facebook.
“Very few people are realizing that Snapchat is a powerful content creation tool with all the ingredients that digital natives love, whether it is the ability to add filters, put text at the bottom for auto-play videos, or add emojis that convey emotions that we can’t sum up in words.”
Stigma around sexual violence is such a big issue, especially in India where the survivors are frequently accused of lying, alienated from their families and thrown out of society. With this tool typically meant for entertainment, young survivors can be empowered and liberated to tell their stories for themselves, with all of their emotions and expressions. This is a powerful step forward in our collective efforts to address rape culture. Thank you Omar!
Check out the video below and add Omar on Snapchat (yusufomarsa) for more info!
(Info and photos courtesy of Yusuf Omar and Hindustan Times.)