Ai oil painting

@bladeeangel/TikTok Daboost/ShutterStock (Licensed)

Unsurprisingly, TikTok’s AI Oil Painting filter is white-washing users

When will TikTok harness CapCut and put an end to these racist AI filters?


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Feb 14, 2024   Updated on Feb 14, 2024, 7:55 pm 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.

What goes up, must come down. And what image is fed to an AI filter on TikTok must come out looking white-washed. At least that’s how these things go down on TikTok.

Like TikTok’s AI outpainting and AI studio photo filter, TikTok’s new AI oil painting filter takes users’ images and creates AI-generated pictures inspired by their real counterparts. But, also like those other filters, the results always feature lighter skin and Eurocentric features.

Take a video from @bladeeangel, who describes herself as Afrolatina in her TikTok bio, for example. The AI-generated oil painting made her skin much lighter and enlarged her eyes, making for a more “white” look overall.

Or one from @dearkiriko, an Asian TikToker, whose brown eyes were turned blue by the filter. Or, @boujy, a Tunisian TikToker whose brown eyes were also turned blue.

Or @zans.exp, who is Black, whose photo was recreated faithfully by AI… except for the fact that it also included a white woman that bears a striking resemblance to the TikToker in the image as well.

You get the point. While not all of the AI-generated oil painting images white-washed their subjects, a lot did

Why it matters

As I’ve said in this column before—and will undoubtedly say again—AI is racist. It’s biased because the systems it was trained on are too. But just because we know why this happens and that it’s happening so often doesn’t make it okay.

And the TikTokers who were made to look white by the filter were upset by it, too: @bladeeangel said she was “[pissed] off” that the filter changed her features, and commenters on the videos of people whose brown eyes were made blue noted that CapCut, the video editing platform on which the AI oil painting filter was created, “[hates] brown eyes.”

It’s a shame that TikTok, the same platform that has allowed so many marginalized communities to aggregate power and community, also seems to let AI filters run free without any regulation—even when they perpetuate the same discrimination that it’s taken mainstream media and entertainment too long to address.

When will TikTok harness CapCut and put an end to these racist AI filters? Or, at least require that they be re-programmed to be less white?

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*First Published: Feb 14, 2024, 6:00 am CST