On the surface it was a strange and temporary problem that affected some users and not others. But it also drastically changed the look of people – an important issue for an app it’s used by about 100 million people in the United States. So I also sent the video to Amy Niu, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin who studies the psychological impact of beauty filters. He pointed out that in China, and elsewhere, some apps add a subtle beauty filter by default. When Niu uses apps like WeChat, he can only really tell that a filter is in place by comparing a photo of himself using his camera with the image produced in the app.
A couple of months ago, he said, he downloaded the Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin. “When I turn off beauty mode and filters, I can still see an adjustment on my face,” she said.
Having beauty filters in an app isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Niu said, but app designers have a responsibility to consider how these filters will be used, and how they will change the people who use them. Even if it was a temporary bug, it could have an impact on how people look.
“The internalization of people’s beauty standards, their own body image, or whether they will intensify their concern for appearance,” are all considerations, Niu said.
For Dawn, the strange facial effect was just one more thing to add to the list of frustrations with TikTok: “It was very reminiscent of a relationship with a narcissist, because they love you — they bombard you for a minute, they give you all these followers and all this attention and it feels so good, ”they said. “And then for some reason I’m alone – I’m like, we’re cutting you.”