Apple’s emoji keyboard is reinforcing Western stereotypes (2023)

Last year, Apple added an emoji search bar to iMessage, a simple feature that lets users quickly sift through over 3,000 standardized emojis by typing associated key terms. For example, iPhone users can now locate the heart eyes emoji by searching “love,” or the loudly crying face by searching “sad.” But when people look up different geographic regions or countries, such as “China” or “Africa,” Apple’s emoji keyboard sometimes spits back recommendations that reinforce Western stereotypes about those places.

The term “Europe,” for example, frequently displays emoji suggestions for a globe, the European Union flag, the euro currency, a European post office building, as well as a football and castle. The term “Africa,” meanwhile, often only returns a globe, two country flags, and the hut emoji. The term “African” also displayed the hut emoji in tests. These results raise questions about biases that may be built into Apple’s language processing systems, though it’s unclear exactly how the emoji recommendations are generated. Apple did not return repeated requests for comment.

“I wouldn’t say the feature is racist, but incomplete,” says O’Plérou Grebet, an artist from Côte d’Ivoire who designed his own independent set of emojis after noticing there was little representation of Africa in the emoji alphabet. “There is nothing wrong with huts because there are people living in them, but it’s a problem when the only emoji is a hut, because it reduces the continent to huts, and this is what could feed racist stereotypes.”

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Grebet says that Apple’s depiction of Africa reinforces the idea that the continent is poor, and promotes a monolithic depiction of an incredibly diverse region to iPhone users. Since November, a handful of users on Twitter have noted and complained to Apple about the “Africa” emoji search results. It’s not clear if they appear on every iOS device, but Rest of World has replicated the results using several different iPhones, language settings, and versions of the English-langauge keyboard.

This isn’t the first time Apple has been accused of encoding bias into its emoji products. In 2017, Apple’s predictive text feature, which often suggests emojis automatically as users type words into their keyboard, was criticized for generating all-male emojis for terms like “CEO” and “CTO.” Earlier this year, Instagram came under fire when the app showed users that typed “dog” the emoji for a Chinese takeout box, playing into racist stereotypes.

Both Apple and Instagram eventually altered their results, but each incident is an example of how societal prejudices can be unknowingly coded into seemingly neutral emoji-based features. In this case, it’s unclear whether Apple’s emoji search feature operates solely based on keywords and tags, or more complicated machine learning algorithms that adapt to user behavior.

The emojis Apple uses are pulled directly from Unicode, a consortium made of some of the world’s largest tech companies — including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — that’s responsible for standardizing emoji usage across internet browsers, social media platforms, and devices. In addition to approving new entries to the alphabet, Unicode keeps an official list of word associations for each emoji. The hut emoji originated from a proposal that specifically linked it to under-representation of African culture, but according to a Unicode spokesperson, “Africa” is not listed as one of the official keywords for the emoji, suggesting this search issue is unique to iOS.

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Apple’s emoji keyboard is reinforcing Western stereotypes (1)

The emoji search results on iOS veer away from Unicode’s standard keywords for other geographic areas as well. In some tests, the term “US,” displays the emoji for throwing away trash (🚮). Jennifer 8. Lee, vice chair for the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, shared screenshots of results for “China” with Rest of World. The first emoji on display, ahead of more obvious options such as the Chinese flag (🇨🇳), was a dog (🐕), followed by several animals that are also Chinese zodiac signs.

Rest of World was not able to replicate these exact results, though the dog emoji was often one of the first suggestions in tests it conducted. In one instance, the second suggestion after the Chinese flag was for the maple leaf emoji (🍁). These discrepancies suggest that iOS may personalize emoji results to some degree, though the specifics remain a mystery without further clarification from Apple.

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The “Africa” search issue ultimately reflects deeper representation problems that date back to the very beginnings of the emoji project. “Apple could simply remove a keyword on their end,” says Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia, an independent website that serves as the de facto online dictionary for the emoji alphabet. “There is a technical solution there, but should there just be more African emojis in general? Would it be less problematic if it were contextualized with other African-specific emojis?”

When Unicode officially launched the original emoji alphabet in 2010, it disproportionately represented a single country: Japan. “When you look at the emoji keyboard today, it is misleading. It feels like one cohesive set that somebody said is the right balance, and that’s just not the case,” says Burge, who also represents Emojipedia as a voting member of Unicode. “The reality is the first 400 or so emojis that existed were just made at the whims of designers in Japan.”

Emoji is originally a Japanese word meaning “pictograph.” In the early 2000s, mobile carriers across the country started designing the characters as fun add-ons to set themselves apart from their domestic rivals. That’s why there are more than 70 emojis that are specific to Japanese culture, including festival symbols (🎋), desserts (🍡), and even the vehicle sticker that indicates someone is a novice driver (🔰). Unicode pulled these hyper-specific designs into its international standard dictionary without much interrogation, creating what Burge calls a “weird Japanese-American hybrid.”

Apple’s emoji keyboard is reinforcing Western stereotypes (2)

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In the years since, Unicode has voted to address some representation issues by adding new emojis featuring people with darker skin tones, disability-related emojis, and representations of the LGBTQ+ community. But it hasn’t done as much work to expand representation of cultural artifacts and symbols. In fact, one of the most important criteria for getting a new emoji approved today is its potential popularity, usually defined as “high usage worldwide.” Under these new rules, those same Japanese emojis wouldn’t be approved today, according to Burge.

That has left Afrocentric designers like Grebet, the Ivorian artist, struggling to get their emoji proposals passed by Unicode’s voting bloc. In 2018, he launched an Instagram series called Zouzoukwa, in which he spent a year posting a new emoji design each day depicting West African food, music, clothing, and people. Unicode told Rest of World that it’s working closely with Grebet to develop formal proposals for his designs, but he says he hasn’t received a response or feedback on his submissions from 2019, including one for the gesture of pulling down one’s eyelid; one for mancala, a game using marbles; and one for the Hamsa, a hand-shaped pendant common in North Africa.

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The hut emoji, submitted by American journalist Samantha Sunne, was approved in 2019. In her proposal, Sunne argued it would address the underrepresentation of indigenous architecture, especially that of Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya, where similar types of huts can be found.

“My initial thought was, of course, the hut is what gets approved,” says Kerrilyn Gibson, an American designer who launched the #AfroHairMatters campaign in 2019 with Rhianna Jones to get emojis featuring Black and brown people with Afros and dreads added to Unicode. “I understand the relevance of that emoji as an architectural reference, but I don’t think that is the only thing that represents Africa or the African diaspora, and it’s in poor taste to not offer a broader representation.

Like Grebet, Gibson submitted two proposals for Afro emojis, arguing the additions would better encompass the experiences of Black and brown people. They were both rejected. “I think it’s really important, especially for younger Black people, to be able to look at these emojis every single day and see something that looks like them,” Gibson says.

FAQs

Does Apple have a gender neutral emoji? ›

iPhone users now have the option to use gender-neutral emojis if you update to iOS 13.2. Apple's new selection came after Android added non-binary emojis in May.

How do I use Emogi on my keyboard? ›

Simply click on any text field, then press Command + Control + Space on your keyboard. A panel will open, and you can choose your emoji from the list. A simple click will add the emoji to your text.

Why does Apple have the best emojis? ›

The reason why there's an emoji gap between iPhone users and Android users is because Apple is great at getting its users to upgrade to the latest version of its software. Unicode, the organization that approves new emojis, has been creating new emoji on an annual basis recently.

Are Apple emojis copyright? ›

Emojis are Protected by Copyright

This means that emojis are actually similar to fonts and typeface that are copyrighted and licensed by the major tech companies who offer use of their emojis. Apple, for example, must buy, license, or create the fonts that are used on their platforms, which includes their emojis.

What does this emoji mean 👪? ›

Where does 👪 Family emoji come from? Emojipedia. The family emoji, approved under Unicode 6.0 in 2010, is meant to represent a family unit. The default family emoji depicts a father, mother, and son, all in the supposedly racially neutral color of bright yellow.

What is this emoji 🤦 ♂? ›

🤦‍♂️ Man Facepalming

The Man Facepalming emoji is a ZWJ sequence combining 🤦 Person Facepalming, ‍ Zero Width Joiner and ♂️ Male Sign.

How do you make a 😂 in Outlook? ›

Open Outlook and click on New Email.
  1. Select the body of the email, and then press Windows + Period to bring up the emoji selection panel. ...
  2. Tap on the smiley face icon on your keyboard. ...
  3. Tap on the emoji you want to insert. ...
  4. The emojis that you tap on will appear in the body of your email.
7 Sept 2022

How do you make a 😂? ›

Use Alt + 128514 to make face with tears of joy emoji 😂. However, you need to type the numbers using numeric pad on your keyboard.

What is the Green Apple emoji? ›

A common green apple, tarter counterpart to the Red Apple. Displayed with a stem and single, green leaf on major platforms. Green Apple was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.

What are the benefits of using emojis? ›

Using emojis sends a clearer message

Audio and visual cues are hard to pick up through text. Images can be used to communicate more information using fewer words. People process and express themselves better with images than with plain text, as they offer a way to convey nuances and emotion.

Do emojis improve communication? ›

In addition to expressing emotions, emoticons are also used to convey meaning in communication. Hence, their use can add contextual or additional emotional meaning to communication. It's a quick way to express your feelings, and they often work better than words.

What is beneficial about using emojis? ›

Emojis have become an acceptable form of communication. Include Emojis in your push notification messages, and your users will feel it be a more personalized message and they will respond to it. And the best part is… You don't need to be a billion-dollar business to use them and grow your business!

Who is responsible for emojis? ›

The Unicode Consortium (legally Unicode, Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated and based in Mountain View, California.

Can you use emoji as password? ›

As emojis have become ingrained in online language, it only makes sense to start incorporating them in our passwords. After all, emoticons — emoji's predecessor — are just combinations of symbols and characters we're already allowed to use in login credentials.

Who is emoji owned by? ›

The emoji company GmbH is the exclusive rights owner of the registered emoji® trademark and the creator and owner of the world´s largest library of emoji® brand icons and designs protected under applicable copyright laws and available for licensing of any kind.

What does this emoji mean 👅 🍆? ›

When you're feeling flirty and playful, you can send the 👅 emoji to show your partner that you're in the mood for some sexting. Pair 👅 with other emojis like 🍆 (eggplant), 🍑 (peach), 🌮 (taco), and 💦 (sweat droplets) to make it clear that you're referencing oral sex with your partner.

What does 🥑 mean? ›

An 🥑 can be as simple as saying, “I love avocados!” If you see this emoji and a picture of food made with avocado, chances are someone really likes avocados.

What does 😏 mean in text? ›

🔤 Meaning. As its official name reveals, 😏 Smirking Face represents the facial expression of a smirk. It's used to communicate a range of feelings, including smugness, self-confidence, self-indulgence, mischief, cheeky humor, and general satisfaction.

What does 🤗 mean from a girl? ›

What does does Hugging Face emoji 🤗 mean? Bring it in, there, buddy. The hugging face emoji is meant to depict a smiley offering a hug. But, it's often just used to show excitement, express affection and gratitude, offer comfort and consolation, or signal a rebuff.

What does this emoji mean 🙄 from a girl? ›

Emoji Meaning

As with the gesture of an eye-roll, commonly conveys moderate disdain, disapproval, frustration, or boredom. Tone varies, including playful, sassy, resentful, and sarcastic, as if saying Yeah, whatever. Samsung's design previously depicted a face smiling and looking to the side.

What does 👉 👈 mean from a girl? ›

The majority of people agree that it means 'shy'. As if you were twiddling your fingers together, nervously. The emojis can often be paired with the emoji too, for extra nervous vibes. The emoji sequence can be used if you're about to ask someone a soft, yet risky question, or if you're just feeling hella shy.

How do I create a free Outlook email account? ›

To create a new email account on Outlook.com:
  1. Connect to Microsoft outlook.com, using this link. ...
  2. Add your name (and a few more fields), then add the email name you'd like to use. ...
  3. Add the other requested information. ...
  4. After you complete the steps, a new @outlook.com email address will be created.

How do I create an email and send a message? ›

Create and send email
  1. On your computer, go to Gmail.
  2. At the top left, click Compose.
  3. In the "To" field, add recipients. You can also add recipients: In the "Cc" and "Bcc" fields. ...
  4. Add a subject.
  5. Write your message.
  6. At the bottom of the page, click Send.

How do I create a custom email in Outlook 2010? ›

To design an Outlook form
  1. On the Developer tab, in the Custom Forms group, click Design a Form, and then select the standard form on which to base your custom form.
  2. Add the fields, controls, and code that you want to your new form. ...
  3. Set form attributes for the custom form.
  4. Publish the form.
21 Jan 2022

How do we make a pen? ›

They can be produced by either extrusion or injection molding. In each approach, the plastic is supplied as granules or powder and is fed into a large hopper. The extrusion process involves a large spiral screw, which forces the material through a heated chamber, making it a thick, flowing mass.

What emoji does 🍃 mean? ›

The Leaf Fluttering in the Wind emoji 🍃 depicts one or two green leaves being blown by the wind. It is commonly used to represent leaves, good weather, spring and summer, windy days, plants, and marijuana.

What does 🍎 mean from a guy? ›

Instead of using a ❤️, they may use a 🍎. This is a cute and unique way to show love and affection. If your partner sends you a single 🍎, it could be them saying, “I love you.” “You're the best🍎” “I love you to the moon and back🍎”

What does 👾 mean? ›

👾 Alien Monster emoji

It is commonly used to represent aliens and outer space. Because the emoji often highly resembles the aliens used in the classic video game Space Invaders (1978), the Alien Monster emoji 👾 is also often used to refer to video games and gaming.

Why is it important to use emojis in social media? ›

And, the general results of using emojis on social platforms are worth being noted: Facebook: 57% more likes, 33% more comments, and 33% more shares. Instagram: 50% of all comments and captions contain emojis. Twitter: 25.4% more engagement.

What is a fact about emojis? ›

The first (extremely pixelated) emoji were created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999 for cellphones and pagers. They are now housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2011, Apple added an official emoji keyboard to the iOS, increasing their popularity. Android added its version in 2013.

Why are emojis always used? ›

The use of emojis is seen more as a creative form of language - when present in text-based messages, these symbols help us express ourselves better and more imaginatively, a compliment rather than a replacement.

Are emojis good for language? ›

They help communicate ideas and allow humans to express themselves. But both definitions also point to the key issues with emojis- these images don't follow a conventional system and they don't necessarily allow messages to be communicated successfully. Emojis, unlike other languages, don't follow grammatical rules.

Do emojis make us better or worse communicators? ›

Emoji can help you accurately articulate your words both personally and professionally. However, it can be difficult to express your emotions and even tone of voice when chatting with friends or coworkers online.

Do emojis express emotions? ›

Facial emojis can express a variety of positive and negative emotions, and are commonly used in digital, written communication. However, little is known about how emojis impact text processing and how different emoji-text combinations give rise to a sender's mental state.

Are emojis beneficial or destructive to communication essay? ›

Emoji are not harmful, they are helpful. Whether one likes it or not, emoji is becoming a universal language; the addition of facial expressions and gestures to fast-paced brief messages brings a touch of humanity to the cold and sometimes distant digital message.

What is the most useful emoji? ›

World Emoji Day 2022 Special: Most commonly used emojis
  • Red Heart emoticon. This emoticon is amongst the most often used ones. ...
  • Loudly crying face emoticon. ...
  • Face with tears of joy emoticon. ...
  • Pleading face emoticon. ...
  • Rolling on floor laughing emoticon.
17 Jul 2022

What are the advantages and disadvantages of emojis? ›

Let's start;
  • Advantages of using emoji. Following are the advantages of using emoji.
  • 2- Effective Advertisement. ...
  • 3- Improve Customer Engagement. ...
  • 4- Increase Interest. ...
  • 5- Saves Time. ...
  • Disadvantages of emoji. ...
  • 1- Roasted Vocabulary. ...
  • 2- Emoji Create Confusion.
30 Oct 2021

What were emojis inspired by? ›

Kurita used Japanese graphic novels and Zapf Dingbats typeface as well as illustrations and pictograms to create the first emoji library.

Does Apple own the word emoji? ›

No-one owns the name emoji, just like no one owns the name tree, house, computer, or icon. While there are many people and companies involved at various stages of emoji approval — particularly the Unicode Consortium — none claim ownership over the name emoji.

Who was the first person to use an emoji? ›

In the late 1990s, a Japanese artist named Shigetaka Kurita created the first emoji. He was working for a mobile communications company called NTT Docomo.

Can emojis be hacked? ›

Cybersecurity researchers said they have developed a way to exploit targets just using emojis. In the near future, hackers could pwn you just by sending your computer or cellphone a random string of emojis, according to cybersecurity researchers.

Is there an emoji for keeping a secret? ›

The shushing face emoji is used to convey a sense of secrecy and is occasionally used to express a desire for quiet or in a post that is sleep related. On social media, it's more about sharing a secret, or a secret thought.

Is there another meaning for this emoji 🔒? ›

Just as 🔒 means “secure” on websites and software, you can use it to explain that something is safe and protected or on lockdown. While it typically refers to internet technology, 🔒 can indicate any kind of security.

What does 🙌 mean in texting? ›

Who uses 🙌 Raising Hands emoji? Two raised hands are often used to signal a “congratulations!” or “we did it!” The raised hands emoji then is used in posts and texts that relate to a victorious personal moment, a sports win, or a moment of pride.

What does 🙏 mean in texting? ›

🔤 Meaning. Depicting two hands pressed together and fingers pointed up, 🙏 Folded Hands is variously used as a gesture of prayer (religious or secular), thanks, request, and greeting as well to express such sentiments as hope, praise, gratitude, reverence, and respect.

What does this 🙂 emoji mean? ›

Emoji Meaning

A yellow face with simple, open eyes and a thin, closed smile. Conveys a wide range of positive, happy, and friendly sentiments. Its tone can also be patronizing, passive-aggressive, or ironic, as if saying This is fine when it's really not.

Are there Nonbinary emojis? ›

Last week, Apple announced the release of non-binary options to supplement the emoji humanoid characters such as airline pilots, royalty, firefighters, and artists.

What does this emoji mean ⚧? ›

This particular flag is used to represent the transgender community and is used to express transgender Pride. The Transgender Flag emoji 🏳️‍⚧️ is used by both people who self-identify as transgender as well as by people of other gender identities who support the transgender community.

What does it mean 💁 ♀? ›

💁‍♀️ Woman Tipping Hand

This emoji is commonly used to express sassiness or sarcasm. The earlier gender-unspecified version of this emoji, 💁 Person Tipping Hand, was originally depicted as a woman across most platforms.

What does this symbol mean ☿? ›

☿️ Mercury

A symbol intended to convey aspects of femininity and masculinity. May be used as a complement to ♀️ Female Sign and ♂️ Male Sign for gender-inclusive or gender-fluid people.

What does this 🙅 ♀ mean? ›

🙅‍♀️ Woman Gesturing No

A woman with arms crossed forming an 'X' to indicate 'no' or 'no good'. This motion is used on the TV game show Deal or No Deal to indicate 'No Deal'. Intended to be gender-neutral but shown as a woman on most platforms.

What does this face mean 🤦 ♀? ›

🤦‍♀️ Assumed meaning: Headache. Real meaning: Facepalm! That's right, this handy emoji is meant to indicate embarrassment or frustration, with yourself and others.

What is the meaning of 💁 ♂? ›

💁‍♂️ Man Tipping Hand

A man tipping his hand by his shoulder as if he's carrying a tray of drinks or flipping his hair. This emoji is commonly used to express sassiness or sarcasm.

What does 🏳 🌈 mean in text? ›

Rainbow Flag emoji mean? The Rainbow Flag emoji portrays a rainbow flag, a flag with six stripes of the rainbow. This particular flag is used to represent the LGBTQ community and is used to express Pride in this community. Both the actual flag and the emoji depicting it are often referred to as the Pride Flag.

What does the 🤤 emoji mean? ›

🤤 Drooling Face emoji

Whether you desperately desire a delicious meal, a nice pair of shoes, or that cutie sitting across from you in the coffee shop, you might look like the drooling face emoji: 🤤. This emoji is used to convey such lust and longing as well as naptime—a less sexy time to drool.

What does this emoji mean 🤲? ›

🤲 Palms Up Together emoji

[ pahms uhp tuh-geth-er ih-moh-jee ] Published September 7, 2021. The Palms Up Together emoji 🤲 depicts two hands positioned close together with open palms facing upwards. It is commonly used to represent praying or begging.

What is the meaning of 🤷 ♀? ›

🤷‍♀️ Woman Shrugging

The Woman Shrugging emoji is a ZWJ sequence combining 🤷 Person Shrugging, ‍ Zero Width Joiner and ♀️ Female Sign.

What does this emoji mean 🤷 ♂? ›

The man shrugging emoji, 🤷‍♂️, is all about conveying doubt, ignorance, and indifference.

What is the symbol for a female? ›

The Female Sign emoji represents female birth sex and feminine gender identities and expressions, often used online or in texts to champion feminism and women's empowerment.

What is the female symbol called? ›

The three standard sex symbols in biology are male ♂, female and hermaphroditic ⚥; originally the symbol for Mercury, ☿, was used for the last.

Why do we use these symbols ♀ ♂? ›

♂️ and ♀️ are defined as "gender identity symbols" because they are commonly used to denote the sex of all forms of life, they are part of the universal symbol system because they are widely spread and are recognized worldwide.

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