“A lot of communication online is now via the mode of emoji/emoticon images. Traditionally these have been displayed as a yellow standard, but recent releases of more diverse emoji choices have raised a number of conversations. Read the two articles on reactions to the Apple and Facebook release of diverse emoji/emoticons in 2015 and 2016. Now consider the emoji alternative Bitmoji
To be honest I’m not big on avatars and emjois. I used the same twitter avatar (a rather fetching picture of the back of my head) for nine years and only got round to changing it a couple of months ago :} I also don’t use emojis very often so I’ve never really given much thought to who they may or may not represent. Now I stop and think about it though, that lack of regard is a clear reflection of my own position of privilege. I may not use emojis, but if I ever wanted to, it wouldn’t be difficult to find plenty that would broadly represent me. So the article about the furore surrounding Apple’s multicultural icons certainly gave me pause for thought. It also made me think of the recent news articles about Rayouf Alhumedhi, a Saudi teenager living in Germany who has submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee for the inclusion of hijab and keffiyeh wearing emojis. Motherboard quoted Alhumedhi as saying
“Emojis can seem like a trivial topic but people use emojis to represent themselves and their lives. When the different couples and different skin tone emojis were added there was a huge buzz, and this was because people finally felt represented and acknowledged, which is the same case with the headscarf emoji.”
There are several things I find really inspiring about this story. Firstly it’s about choice and empowerment. Here is a young woman who felt she lacked representation online and took it upon herself to change that. And secondly it’s about diversity and engagement with standards bodies. The way that Alhumedhi went about creating an icon that represented herself was by submitting a proposal directly to the formal standards body that governs unicode emojis. That takes some doing. I worked with technology standards bodies for many years, though admittedly not the Unicode Consortium, and to say that women are underrepresented in these bodies would be something of an understatement. I got so used to being the only woman in the room that I stopped even noticing and I don’t think I ever encountered a woman of colour in any of the standards working groups I was involved with over a period of about fifteen years. So more power to Alhumedhi for taking her campaign for representation straight to the body that governs the standard. If we had more people like Alhumedhi involved in the the development of standards and software perhaps the web would be a more diverse and inclusive place and companies like Apple wouldn’t find themselves in such a mess when it comes to dealing with issues of race, representation and diversity.