Academics Gathered to Share Emoji Research, and It Was 🔥

Linguists and data scientists see a new way to study language and communication in our little digital ideograms.

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Papers presented at the conference highlighted emoji as markers of solidarity during crisis (think: “Je suis Paris 🙏🇫🇷”) or as ways to understand differences across gender or political ideologies (women use emoji more than men, but conservative men use way fewer emoji than liberal men). Others discussed the potential to decode emoji with machine learning, and the difficulties in teaching computers to recognize the multiple meanings of emoji in natural-language processing. A panel discussion raised questions about the way the emoji lexicon is developed, as well as the ways emoji can be misinterpreted across cultures. (The 👌 does not mean the same thing in English as it does in American Sign Language, nor does it mean the same thing to white supremacists.)

Tyler Schnoebelen, who gave the keynote speech on Monday, says conversations about emoji have been too often painted with a broad brush. There’s the utopian vision: emoji as a “universal language,” the great democratizer and harbinger of communication across class, culture, and geography. And then there’s the doomsday vision: emoji as the destruction of language, a political tool, a new way to send violent threats. The nuance often gets lost in between. We have hardly any research to tell us who uses emoji, when, why, and how that use has changed over time. We know even less about what emoji can reveal in disaster scenarios, campaigns, or educational settings; even linguists, who have looked at emoticons and other internet-born languages for decades, don’t have a consensus on what emoji mean for the future of language.

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White Skin, Black Emojis?

A set of expressive cartoon hands making a variety of gestures.

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My daughter, a very conscious 15-year-old queer, white girl, has recently started using black hand emojis. We discuss race and politics all the time at home. She even listens to your podcast with me sometimes. We live in a diverse neighborhood of a diverse city. As a family and on her own, our daily lives include many friendships and interactions with POC. So my question is, do I speak to her about using the emojis??

All women’s shoe emoji have high heels. One woman wants to change that

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Flip to your emoji keyboard and scroll until you reach the clothing options. You’ll notice five shoe emoji; a brown “man’s shoe,” a gender-neutral trainer or sneaker, and three high-heeled women’s shoes. Hutchinson says this absence of a flat women’s shoe emoji is problematic.

“The fact that women cannot opt in to have a female shoe without a heel is deeply problematic as the vast majority of women simply do not wear heels in their daily lives,” says Hutchinson.

“The implicit expectation, albeit a virtual one, that women would and/or should wear high heeled shoes (be it a stiletto, a mule, or a boot) is simply absurd,” she continues. Hutchinson notes that her campaign is far from a “stiletto boycott,” but instead an effort to give “women who prefer flats” an icon they can identify.