TikTok's AI Studio Photo filter


TikTok’s AI studio photo filter is lightening skin and making people look thinner

The racist and fatphobic biases of artificial intelligence are on full display in the latest AI-based filter going viral on TikTok. 


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Nov 15, 2023   Updated on Nov 16, 2023, 9:34 am CST

In each edition of web_crawlr we have exclusive original content every day. On Tuesdays our IRL Reporter Tricia Crimmins breaks down the trends on the popular app that will make you cringe in her “Problematic on TikTok” column.  If you want to read columns like this before everyone else, subscribe to web_crawlr to get your daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

The racist and fatphobic biases of artificial intelligence are on full display in the latest AI-based filter going viral on TikTok

AI studio photo, a TikTok filter that has been used in videos almost 4 million times, transforms users’ likeness into a professional-looking photo from another time. Many of the end results look like photos from the 1940s—and the filter seems to have taken that time period’s societal prejudices into account when creating the final images. 

In a TikTok posted last week, E.L. Shen, an Asian woman, shows how the filter took her face and transformed her into a white, blue-eyed woman. Shen wrote in her video’s overlay text that she tried the filter eight times, and each time it turned her into a “white lady who would be the one signing the Chinese Exclusion Act.” The Chinese Exclusion Act was a 1880s law that banned immigration from China to the U.S. for ten years.

TikToker Drae (@coyoteugly2.0) also posted that the AI studio photo filter lightened her skin: Drae, a darker skinned Black woman shows that the filter made her skin color significantly lighter

“They took your melanin,” a commenter wrote on Drae’s video.

And the filter isn’t only changing the color of people’s skin, it’s also changing the shape of their faces. Abby Morris (@morethantracyt), who has called out other TikTok filters for their fatphobia, shows how the AI studio photo filter made her face thinner

“You will not convince me to get on board with AI until one of these trends keeps me fat,” Morris wrote in her video’s caption.

Why it matters

The opportunity of seeing yourself in the style of an old-timey portrait is only being given to white, thin people. If your body deviates from that, the filter doesn’t work as well on you—and that’s unfair and discriminatory.

We know that artificial intelligence is prejudiced because of the systems it learns from are as well. But why aren’t newer AI releases being engineered to avoid the racist and fatphobic issues of their predecessors? Especially when TikTok creators call out these issues time and again?

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*First Published: Nov 15, 2023, 6:00 am CST