January 28, 2021

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Snapchat Offers Tentative Support for UK MP’s Call for Labels on Digitally Altered Images

3 min read

Negative self comparison is one of the biggest risks for young people online, and the availability of advanced photo editing and image-altering tools now means that many of the photos of people you see posted are not realistic depictions of what they actually look like.

That can have serious impacts, and recently, a UK MP called for direct action to address it.

Back in September, Tory MP Dr. Luke Evans proposed a new law which would force social platforms to add labels to any posted image that had been digitally altered or enhanced. Evans said that such enhancements create an “unrealistic and unachievable aspiration” for young people, which can cause significant psychological impacts.

“With the click of a mouse you can have bigger biceps, with the swipe of a thumb you can have a slimmer waste.”

Evans additionally noted that 1.25 million people in the UK are believed to be living with either anorexia or bulimia. 

The proposal would create a new standard which would mandate a level of detection in digital uploads, in order to highlight any such editing. And last week, Snapchat’s UK policy chief Henry Turnball gave his tentative support for the bill.

“I understand the proposals behind Dr. Luke Evans’ Bill to add some kind of logo or symbol to images or videos that have been digitally altered. I think that is something that has some merit and should be carefully thought through.”

That’s not a clear endorsement, and there are various factors which would need to be considered in the proposal. But it could be an important, effective way to reduce unrealistic comparison, and address the concerns noted by Evans in regards to mental health impacts.

Interestingly, Google is also investigating the same.

Back in October, Google shared the results of tests that it had conducted in regards to digital image re-touching and its impacts on mental health.

“We conducted multiple studies and spoke with child and mental health experts from around the world, and found that when you’re not aware that a camera or photo app has applied a filter, the photos can negatively impact mental wellbeing. These default filters can quietly set a beauty standard that some people compare themselves against.”

Google has since updated its Pixel settings so that re-touching is switched off by default, while it’s also investigating other ways to highlight digital image altering. 

It’s an interesting proposal, and one which won’t be welcomed by all, but it could have far-reaching psychological benefits, especially considering the young audiences of apps like Snapchat. Of course, people would seek alternative ways around this, editing their images in other apps in order to avoid any detection. But new tools are also being developed which can highlight changes in digital code, in order to pick out such changes.

Definitely, this is a key area of concern, and it’s important for all platforms to be looking into how their tools can impact mental wellbeing, and what they can do to assist, where possible. 

Labeling altered images would definitely have an impact – but would that reduce usage? And then, which is a more important consideration for the platforms?

It’ll likely be a key point of debate in the new year. 

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