Is the Instagram Filter Ban Going Far Enough?

In its most recent move towards making the platform a more ‘positive experience’ for its users, Instagram has just announced it is going to remove all ‘augmented reality’ (AR) filters, that give the appearance of plastic surgery, from the app. 

In August, a new update was introduced that allowed users to create their own virtual effects to superimpose on their photos. However, Instagram were quickly forced to backtrack on the amendment, after filters depicting lip injections, fillers and facelifts have been gaining widespread popularity. In particular, platforms like ‘FixMe’ and ‘Plastica’ have been the focus of a lot of the attention, for enabling users to depict exaggerated features, smoothed out skin and, in one case, even the bruising associated with plastic surgery.

This announcement follows a number of other similar changes made by the social media giant in recent months – others of which have included restricting content related to weight loss products, dieting brands and cosmetic procedures; all in the name of ‘promoting well-being’ and positivity on the platform. 

Evidence has long been signalling to us that social media use is correlated with low self esteem, perpetual physical appearance anxiety and high body dissatisfaction – and the Instagram platform has had to take its fair share of the brunt for this. 

Filters like the ones Instagram is intending to rid itself of are certainly part of the problem; damaging for those individuals that scroll through them on their feed and compare their own appearance to what they see, as well as for the people who feel they need to use them to cover up their own ‘flaws’ that they perceive to need fixing. 

The harmful consequences of the filter-craze are clear; according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of facelifts carried out in the US increased by 22% between 2013 and 2018. This can hardly be claimed to be a coincidence when another 2017 study found that 55% of surgeons reported having seen patients who cited selfie-taking as a reason for seeking their services. 

Although Instagram’s decision here does appear to be a positive one, the cynic might argue that it is still something of a token gesture. Social media itself and its infatuation with appearance, aesthetic and comparison is inherently the problem. Getting rid of plastic surgery filters alone will not eliminate the negative externalities of Instagram and other similar applications. In fact, if anything, the filters in question here are actually less harmful than other, more subtle changes. Simple colour filters or apps like Facetune that allow for discreet tweaking portray appearances that seem more attainable than cartoonish plastic surgery filters; potentially making them a bigger cause for concern. 

Banning plastic surgery filters might at least spark a conversation that we don’t have nearly often enough. However, if Instagram is really serious about trying to combat its negative consequences, it is going to take a much more seismic change than the one they are proposing with this.

Isabel Ralphs