A New AI-Powered TikTok Filter Raises Concern: NPR End-shutdown

The filter makes users look younger and more glamorous. Some TikTokers are concerned that the tool promotes unrealistic beauty standards. (Story aired on All Things Considered on March 8, 2023.)


What you see on social media is not necessarily real life. Many people use filters when they post photos on social media – filters that change the light and maybe make people look brighter and more attractive. If you don’t know, now you know. TikTok has unveiled a new AI-powered filter that might be too good. NPR’s Bobby Allyn takes a look.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Annie Luong (ph) noticed this right away when she recently opened TikTok.

ANNIE LUONG: I saw a lot of girls turning on this filter and their reactions to the filter and how it was such an advanced filter, so I wanted to try it out.

ALLYN: Luong is talking about TikTok’s new beauty filter called Bold Glamour. It has become a viral sensation because it is different from previous beauty filters. It uses advanced artificial intelligence. Instead of simply putting a digital layer over your face, this filter completely recreates your nose, chin, cheeks, and eyes using a process known as machine learning. Luong, a 28-year-old who works in management consulting in Toronto, looked into the Bold Glamor filter and thought…

LUONG: OK, this looks great, but it just didn’t feel like reality. And maybe that, it’s because I know it’s not reality, where I am, I know that’s not how I look in person, and I know that it is, I’m not even going to try to look like that.

ALLYN: Some of the tens of millions of TikTokkers who have tried the filter have had similar reactions.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It’s hard to tell it’s a filter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is so scary. Like, it’s so realistic, um, and so damaging to people who think this is how everyone should look.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I don’t know what kind of witchcraft that filter is…

ALLYN: Not only does the filter create a brighter, leaner, movie star version of yourself, but people have gone crazy because it’s so persuasive.

Luke Hurd is a consultant who works on filters for Instagram and Snapchat.

LUKE HURD: It’s different. It’s not cartoony. It’s not drastically aging yourself or becoming a child or changing your gender in your head. And there are many times where you have to look down in the corner and see, wait, is there a filter for this person? And lately, it has been yes.

ALLYN: That blurring of the line between fact and fiction is something that can have a lasting effect on your sense of identity, says Renee Engeln. She is the director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University.

RENEE ENGELN: So your own face that you see in the mirror suddenly looks ugly to you. It doesn’t seem good enough. Seems like something you should change. It makes you more interested in plastic surgery or other types of procedures.

ALLYN: Engeln says that some might see a TikTok filter as fun, but it should be taken seriously.

ENGELN: It’s not that a TikTok filter directly causes clinical depression, but I think it adds to this culture where a lot of young people feel really alienated from themselves.

ALLYN: Whether it’s creating weirdly good images from scratch or chatbots that can carry on sometimes disturbing conversations, artificial intelligence has taken the internet by storm, and TikTok and other social media companies are trying to incorporate the latest AI magic into their apps to take advantage of the chance. moment. TikTok declined to comment on the filter’s design, and did not discuss how the feature might worsen people’s self-image. Luong, in Toronto, says she’s happy to see so many people on TikTok, mostly young women, using the filter to talk about how social media perpetuates unattainable beauty standards. Many of those who commented on his video using the filter said, you know, I prefer your version without this filter.

LUONG: But then there were some comments where they said, oh, it got a lot better; like, you look so much better; like, you should always keep that filter on.

ALLYN: Another TikTokker said, while turning the filter on and off, no wonder everyone feels so ugly all the time.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News.

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