Creator notices something 'off' while using TikTok's in-app camera: 'It's not my face'

Beauty founder and content creator Charlotte Palermino noticed something weird about the front-facing camera in TikTok. She had just updated the app and hadn’t added any filters, but she didn’t look right.

“I knew my face looked off because it’s not my face,” Palermino said in a video. She added in the caption that she doesn’t use filters in her videos since she sells skin care. Normally, she added, she films her beauty content outside of the app.

As Palermino clicked through the retouch section, she noticed that certain filters had been added automatically. The smoothing feature was at 30%, the teeth whitening at 19%, her dark circles were eliminated and the degree of her nose was altered.

She wasn’t alone.

“I noticed this yesterday and I had such a conflicting emotional reaction,” one commenter wrote to Palermino. “like, TT, why are you face-tuning me as a default?”

“yeah I opened my camera and noticed it and it was super infuriating that I can’t just completely turn it off with one click, & that it’s on by default,” another said.

“What’s troubling about this is this is the default; I am not opting in,” she claimed. “We need to be drawing the line at consenting to altering one’s face on a platform.”

Palermino claimed that the app retained her changing all the settings back to zero, so she doesn’t have to do it every time she opens the app. She also clarified in a comment that she felt particularly strongly about the alleged auto filters because she sells skin care and looped it in with false advertising.

This isn’t the first time TikTok has been accused of doing this either. In June 2021, MIT Technology Review published a report claiming multiple users were accusing TikTok of changing the shape of their faces. Some thought it was a beauty filter, but they couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.

Filters are not new to the social media landscape, but they’ve always been optional and up to the user’s discretion. Airbrushing has been used to alter photos since the pre-digital era when imperfections were removed and certain attributes were enhanced. Photoshop has been around since 1990 and started being used on magazine photos throughout the early 2000s, before becoming more mainstream closer to the 2010s.

Then Snapchat launched filters that were built into its in-app camera in 2015. At the time, they were called Lenses and they included ways of adding animations to photos and videos taken within the app. Within the first few months of launching, Snapchat reported that Lenses were used in 10 million snaps a day.

The difference is that users opt to employ Photoshop or they choose the Lens they’re using for Snapchat. If TikTok did automatically set beauty filters for the in-app camera, the app, which is reportedly used by 1 billion users worldwide, is then being accused of changing people’s appearances and their perception of themselves without their permission.

“[Beauty] standards feel unrealistic enough without adding smoothing and blurring and augmenting,” Palermino wrote in her TikTok caption. “I dont want face dysmorphia.”

Filter dysmorphia” is a common term used in the plastic surgery community after a decade of people using in-app filters to take all of their photos. It started to come about in 2018 as more patients requested cosmetic procedures to make them look like what they did with a filter on and only surged after people spent hours looking at themselves on Zoom during COVID.

“The time spent on social media has been linked with increased body dissatisfaction and may trigger dysmorphic concerns and obsessive thoughts regarding perceived appearance,” a report in the March edition of Clinics in Dermatology said. “With the advent of social media, beauty can be skewed through filters.”

TikTok did not respond to In The Know’s request for comment.

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