How Snapchat Uses Your Face

Every technology can be mined for critical capabilities. Every format has the potential to be a vessel for critique. That belief has always been at the heart of this website. Filmscalpel was set up to investigate how different audiovisual forms can facilitate and generate new insights. There are many, many examples to be found (in the Best Practices section for instance) of criticism and research that put a specific technology to innovative and unique use. Data visualization warranted a page of its own because of the many great examples. Charlie Shackleton looked at how TikTok can be used for audiovisual criticism. There have been fascinating experiments with algorithmic filmmaking and with 360° technology. I myself have used cinemagraphs to do a close reading of a movie’s motifs.


This great piece by Jill Walker Rettberg adds Snapchat to that list. Rettberg is Professor of Digital Culture at the University of Bergen (Norway) and she crafted a whole series of “Snapchat Research Stories” which she gathered into a playlist on her YouTube channel.


In this particular Snapchat story, she explains the (dangers of) biometrics behind facial recognition technology such as the one Snapchat uses. Throughout the video, Rettberg playfully uses Snapchat’s selfie lenses as a way to illustrate the power of the technology and to engage the audience she is addressing. She uses other functions of the app to enhance visuals with emoticons, onscreen text and highlights (basically using Snapchat’s functionalities as a way to produce rich media). The enthusiastic way in which Jill Walker Rettberg embraces the Snapchat technology is a welcome relief from the usual and more cynical approaches to such apps. The conclusion to this video also reflects that optimism when it proposes that these biometrics may not only be a frightening tool for surveillance but can also free us from a fixed identity.