Harassement by Emojis: how to stop online hate

Published byAngela Martin
on

Emojis are increasingly common in online communication. At their best, they enable more nuanced and more specific communication, particularly of emotion, which can help to reduce some of the distance felt while communicating through text alone. The addition of facial expressions, humour and mini-illustrations can be applied creatively to alter the general atmosphere of a conversation, particularly in an informal setting. Their use has become so widespread that the BBC reported in 2016 that a London firm advertised for the job of emoji translator.

However, with the increased fluency in emojis comes an increasing prevalence of creative ways to use emojis to abuse or insult others online. This leads to abuse which is more difficult to detect and quicker to evolve. This is true across all different sections of social media, and we have noticed its prevalence in the UK football community.

Lots of emoji-driven abuse is context dependent, hence the difficulty in identifying when the use is acceptable and when it is problematic.

Most people will be familiar with the use of banana, monkey and gorilla emojis targeting black individuals. This is especially prominent in football related posts online, with some footballers publicly sharing the abusive messages they have received. These emojis are not hateful in every context, but they are frequently used to racially abuse black footballers both in public forums and private messages.

The use of these can vary from a single gorilla emoji with no other context or it can be more explicit in its racist connotation. Sometimes emojis with racist connotations can be combined with other emojis which again, on their own might not convey racist intent.

Two racist emojis followed by a knife indicate racist and threatening intent. This is an example in how emojis can be combined to alter and influence the atmosphere of online spaces. The interpretation of this message is quite disturbing.

It’s not only racism targeted at black individuals which is communicated using emojis. They are used to convey xenophobia and anti-Semitism using emojis and language surrounding the flag of certain countries such as Israel.

In recent years, there has been more involvement in British football from foreign owners. This has led, in some circumstances, to a prevalence of anti-Arab sentiment online. Usually observed when fans get into heated debates or after matches against a club with foreign ownership. The use of petrol pump emojis and oil drum emojis have been used as a targeted reference to owners who originate from Arab, oil producing countries.

Of course, it’s not only racism which can be communicated using emojis. Some of the most obvious and explicit examples of homophobia use only emojis. While emojis can improve the efficiency of expressing emotion and sentiment, they also have the unfortunate feature of enabling abuse to be more graphic and direct.

The rainbow flag is overwhelmingly used to show support for marginalised LGBTQ+ communities and often to identify allies. The creation of this emoji gave LGBTQ+ individuals and allies the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their support and sense of self, but it is being used by some online to further abuse these communities by combing the rainbow graphic with other symbols to represent hate.

Moderating this type of content can be upsetting for those exposed to it, and often some comments remain on social media for days before being removed. It is damaging for those who see it online and should not be tolerated. Using smart AI technology, Arwen removes unwanted content in under a second. You set the parameters so certain emoji combinations words and images can never be displayed on your channels. You can also track abusers and act, allowing you to reclaim your voice and not let the haters win.

If you are experiencing online abuse, and would like our help, please get in touch here.

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