Last month, Snapchat achieved the kind of virality most companies can only dream of.
On May 8, Snapchat released a photo filter (a “Lens” in Snapchat parlance) that, by rounding a users’ face and smoothing away their wrinkles, transforms them into a toddler. Over the next two days, Snapchat also debuted a pair of gender-swap lenses, which either gave users a square jaw and stubble to look more stereotypically masculine, or a dolled-up, soft glow to look more feminine.
The lenses unleashed a torrent of content, mostly people showing the world what they’d look like if they flipped genders. Men “joked” about being attracted to the female versions of their bros, while women trolled their boyfriends with their rugged good looks. Many engaged in catfishing “pranks” (some of which backfired spectacularly) and others professed to wanting to literally go screw themselves.
The internet usually churns through viral ephemera in a matter of days, if not hours, but the gender-swap filters have had surprising staying power. The filters have ignited discussions about the mutable nature of gender and attraction, and the arguably transphobic and sexist manner in which some people have used them.
The filters also seemed to drive a sharp increase in the daily downloads of the Snapchat app across iOS and Android. Snapchat was downloaded across the platforms an estimated 41.5 million times worldwide in May, more than twice the number of downloads from the previous month (16.8 million) and in May of last year (17.6 million), according to third party data.
Prior to the baby and gender-swap filters, Snapchat was being downloaded approximately 600,000 times per day worldwide, according to estimated data provided by Sensor Tower, a mobile app market research firm. Daily downloads doubled after the introduction of the new filters to more than 1 million per day. On three different days in…