The governance of emojis

I’ve never knowingly used an emoji, not because I’m an old fogey (though in other respects I am) but because I see them in the same way as I’ve always viewed Facebook ‘Likes’ — as a way of enabling people to mime responsiveness with no cognitive effort. (What annoyed me about ‘Likes’ from the beginning was the absence of a ‘Dislikes’ button, which was effectively an attempt to squeeze all human response through the narrow aperture of approval.)

In today’s Financial Times (behind a paywall), John Thornhill has a column that has made me think about emojis, though. It turns out that the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organisation run by the big tech companies, maintains an “exclusive grip” on what constitutes an Emoji. There are, it seems, good reasons for doing so because Unicode is the means by which different scripts work universally across the Net.

But now — according to John — the adoption and use of emojis is the focus of intense corporate lobbying’ civic campaigning and geopolitical bullying. The Russian government, for example, has tried to stop operators using emojis of gay behaviour or approval. And the exponentially-growing use of emojis effectively means that they have become a new de-facto global language — a kind of visual Esperanto.

In which case, asks Keith Winstein, a Stanford CS professor, is it right that its evolution should be overseen by “a bunch of predominately white, predominately male, predominately American techies and coding engineers in California”?

Good question.