Wednesday, December 1

Instagram filters that help you escape the limits of the physical world | Ideas

Capture multiple images uploaded to Instagram with filters.
Capture multiple images uploaded to Instagram with filters.

Norway recently announced a law that will ban influencers and marks the publication on social networks of images that have been retouched by filters (or other editing tools) without notice. The news, made public last July, has been celebrated by many as another step in the fight against the unreal beauty standards embodied in the so-called “Instagram face”: small nose, big eyes, fair skin and full lips. . This canon has important racial and cultural implications, as it imposes Eurocentric features by lightening skin tone by default and eliminating traditionally ethnic features such as large noses or slanted eyes. It is also behind what is known as “Snapchat dysmorphia”: the desire to look like those digital faces that has increased the number of surgical interventions and aesthetic treatments. According to a study by the American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 55% of cosmetic surgeons in 2017 saw patients who wanted to have surgery to look better in selfies. Meanwhile, campaigns by models and companies appear on social networks that invite people to show photos without filters, accompanying them with tags such as #Filterdrop (something like “leave the filter”) or #NoDigitalDistortion (not digital distortion).

Filters are automated photo editing tools that use artificial intelligence and computer vision to detect and modify facial features. Although in appearance its operation is quite simple, in reality it is a technical feat made possible by advances in neural networks (a computational model based on the human brain) that allow the data processing necessary to alter videos in real time. They are widely used on social networks such as Instagram and TikTok, which incorporated them after their appearance in 2017, when the company Snap Inc. announced the launch of the Lens Studio platform for the development of augmented reality effects on Snapchat. The first filters had a playful character and superimposed animated designs such as dog ears on the user’s face, but nowadays those that modify the physiognomy to achieve instant beautification have become popular. Instagram has a gallery where you can test and save filters created by other people, as well as create your own filters to make them available to other users.

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The issue of self-representation in virtual environments has been the subject of debate since the initial diffusion of information and communication technologies, and it has been considered a possible space for gender emancipation. One of the proposals that most influenced the importance of how we present ourselves online was the cyberfeminism of the 1990s: for authors such as Sandy Stone or Sadie Plant, cyberspace offered the opportunity to escape identity restrictions by eliminating all signals physical and corporeal of communication, giving rise to interactions that would not be subject to judgments based on sex, age, race, voice, accent or appearance, but based exclusively on textual exchanges. The potential lay in the possibility of anonymity. “No one on the internet knows that you are a dog”, as stated in a popular cartoon published in 1993 in The New Yorker. At that time – before the new millennium – the internet was based on text and all socialization took place in forums and chats that could be accessed with a chosen nickname, so the user was not required to reveal their name, age , gender or geographic location. There were also video games and graphic adventures (such as Habitat or Second Life) where you could embody various characters or choose the gender of the avatar, allowing a certain degree of experimentation with identity, however limited its effects on the social structures of the non-virtual world.

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For Helen Hester, associate professor of media and communication at the University of West London, there has been a radical distancing from that internet towards platforms such as Facebook and other social networks in which its users are expected to identify themselves (for example, through policies real name), and online spaces have mainly become visual self-presentation spaces. That is, spaces of relationship through the image where the representation of the body replaces the body itself. This allows those who are not comfortable with the way they are read in the physical world (off-screen) they can control their way of being represented and, therefore, of making themselves visible and recognizable in virtual environments.

Filters can lead to highly creative practices of experimentation and exploration of new identities by subverting dominant codes of representation in relation to gender (such as those that give an androgynous appearance or that make binary assignment difficult) and can even be seen as a form of Post-human performativity by putting alien or other animal features on the face. This, according to a recent study by researcher Claire Pescott, can have positive impacts even among the very young: “These filters could be seen as accessories or costumes that are used virtually, just like makeup and clothing in real life. Such idealized versions may create pressure to continually adopt this fictional person, but children may have more autonomy over this. falsehood. Instead of considering it in an essentialist way, the distinction between the real and the false has been blurred ”.

Nor is it a naive assumption that control over one’s image on these platforms brings about a change in existing power relations. First of all, these are tech giants who profit from their users’ data – last year Instagram was accused of illegally collecting biometric data obtained through its facial recognition systems. And secondly, all that potential is co-opted and made profitable by taking advantage of its monopoly on the means of technosociality. The philosopher Alejandra López Gabrielidis, a researcher in Technopolitics at the Open University of Catalonia, states: “A large part of the flow of communication happens in these networks, renouncing them completely implies renouncing a large part of the dynamics of contemporary dialogue and socialization.” López Gabrielidis is committed to a philosophy of use that uses “dynamics of presence and absence in social networks”. Therefore, it is a question of occupying them strategically, on the one hand, and, on the other, of promoting the development of more inclusive filters that, instead of algorithmically imposing an unattainable beauty standard, allow users to explore the playful and performative of identity, which in the digital age is (for better or for worse) less and less static and more mutable.

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