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The rich, communicative context available in face-to-face encounters is largely absent from digital communication. Digital text alone is impoverished and, on occasion, emotionally arid. Textspeak, seemingly, possesses the power to strip all forms of nuanced expression from even the best of us. But here emoji can help: It fulfills a similar function in digital communication to gesture, body language, and intonation in spoken interaction. Emoji, in text messaging and other forms of digital communication, enables us to better express tone and provide emotional cues; and this enables us to better manage the ongoing flow of information, and to interpret what the words are meant to convey.
In fact, the idea that digital text, used alone, sucks away the nuancing has even been given its own name: Poe’s law. Based on comments made originally by Nathan Poe on how to parody fundamentalist views, Poe’s law is now an Internet adage, widely cited on web forums and chat rooms; it even has its own Wikipedia page. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Poe’s law states the following: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” In short, when poking fun in digital communication, emojis are best used for avoidance of doubt.