How Emojis Work

Emoji Controversies

Emojis are powerful storytelling tools. But those little symbols may say more about you than you realize. One survey by the dating site claimed that people who used emojis had sex more frequently that those who didn't. Meanwhile, Britain's The Telegraph reported that in the U.K., the wine emoji was the one most frequently used, while Americans favored the crown and Australians loved drug-related emojis [sources: Miller, Levy Gale].

On a less light-hearted note, there is the issue of emoji skin tones. Initially, all emoji skin tones (such as in the "thumbs up" or "praying hands" emojis) were white. But in 2015, the Unicode Consortium changed the default to Simpsons yellow, but allowed people to tint them in one of five skin tones. These were an immediate hit. Interestingly, the "pale skin tone" emoji seems to have fallen out of favor in the U.S., even among whites, according to an Atlantic article. The default yellow seems to have taken over, although African-Americans and others will use the darker skin tones on their emojis.

In some circles, the overuse of emojis may mark you as immature depending on your age and your circle of friends. Misuse may also demonstrate that you're hopelessly out-of-touch with the implied meanings of certain symbols [sources: Webster, Donnelly].

And employing too many smiley faces might cause your co-workers to question your intelligence. One study on emoji use found that "contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence. Perceptions of low competence in turn undermined information sharing" [source: Glikson, et. al]

Embarrassment and ignorance aside, just as with email and texting, digital emojis can have real consequences in your very analog life. We aren't talking about that eggplant icon you accidentally sent to your mom. Text an ominous little icon to the wrong person and you could be charged with a crime.

Two South Carolina men were arrested in 2015 after using Facebook to send the following emoji: a fist, a hand pointing and an ambulance. Officials interpreted the message as a threat on the recipient's physical safety, a logical conclusion given that the men had already tried to attack the homeowner at his residence [source: Flacy].

In early 2016, a Frenchman was sentenced to three months in prison for sending a handgun emoji to his ex-girlfriend. The court determined his message constituted a death threat [source: Samuel].

In Israel in 2017, after exchanging several days' worth of inquiries from a couple looking to rent, a landlord received excited emojis (including a champagne bottle and a squirrel, among others) which led him to remove the property from the market in anticipation of his new tenants. When the prospective renters later backed out, he sued in small claims court to recoup the money he could've made while the home was off the market. He won about $2,000 in damages [source: Kaser].

The moral of the story? In this case, a picture was worth at least $2,000.

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