Have you been longing for a specific emoji, say a sarcastic smile, but don’t know how to get it? Have you been curious why some emojis are available and others aren’t? Do you wonder how emojis become officially sanctioned and distributed in the first place?
Many Twitter users are asking such questions. It makes sense since emoji use is growing rapidly as our means of communication increasingly go digital. In fact, by 2018, more than 2,700 emojis had been added into the Unicode Standard, the single, universal character standard for all digital text, which is maintained by the Unicode Consortium. Every year, the consortium accepts “new emoji” proposals and approves a very limited number (usually less than 250) of them that demonstrate proof of demand, usually from search engine statistics, Google Trends, Wikipedia, and more.
Recently, a team of researchers, including analysts from the Haslam College of Business and the Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, published an article determining which emojis the public is looking for on social media.
The authors culled more than 30 million tweets mentioning the word “emoji” from a one-year period to distill requests for specific emojis. The team examined timing, locations, and context of new emoji requests and did a sentiment analysis to determine the strength of desire for various new emojis among the Twitter users who want them.
This work resulted in an algorithm that maintains a list of Twitter users’ new emoji requests. With the team’s online Real-Time Requested Emoji Tracking System, one can view Twitter users’ emoji demand by month, week, or day, or by a selected time period, unique number of requests, or frequency of requests.
Yunhe Feng, co-author of the study and a PhD student in computer science at UT, says not all demand for new emojis can be fulfilled quickly due to technical constraints and thus proposals need to be approved by balancing several factors. This tracker will give both petitioners and the Unicode Consortium a clear picture of new emoji demand on social media when requesting and approving a new emoji.
“Analyzing new emoji requests on social media is a way to crowdsource ideas. The real-time, interactive nature allows people from the Unicode Consortium to see what the demand is by just looking at the scores we developed in our ranking system,” Feng says.
While the consortium has been responsive to popular demand for emojis over time, the research team’s work shows it is possible that some emojis might be helpful to meet an urgent need or fulfill a good cause. COVID-19 could be an example of a suddenly needed emoji; Feng notes that it has appeared in their rankings.
Co-author Wenjun Zhou, associate professor of business analytics and statistics at Haslam, cites two examples of emojis added to the Unicode Standard in part due to their contributions to social good: the hijab emoji, which helps promote inclusivity for the 550 million Muslim women on the planet, and a mosquito emoji, which allows medical professionals to better explain mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, Zika, dengue, and yellow fever.
“It’s a matter of trying to prioritize,” Zhou says. “If something is requested for a long time, frequently, and has strong social benefits, the consortium puts it at the top of the list.”
With their website, anyone can see the emojis Twitter users are clamoring to use. (“Sarcasm” happens to be the most eagerly desired emoji over the last month. By the numbers, “dignity” is currently No. 1, with 10,663 requests.)
“New Emoji Requests from Twitter Users: When, Where, Why, and What We Can Do About Them” was published in the April 2020 ACM Transactions on Social Computing. Co-authors of the article are Qing Cao from UT, Zheng Lu of UT, and Zhibo Wang (UT, ’14) of Wuhan University, China.
Scott McNutt (865-974-3589, firstname.lastname@example.org)