It Is Not Always “It”

Study shows that emoji can cause “miscommunication”

The emoji are seen as a universal means of communication. These small tokens are already in almost everywhere and are widely used in social networks. But will all see the emoji in the same way? Because of the subjectivity of the faces and the variations between platforms, no.

The GroupLens, a research laboratory that is part of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota (USA), dedicated to study the potential for miscommunication with emoji. After all, we know that the designs vary greatly depending on the platform.

They will publish an article in May about the issue, which is available here(PDF). This fragmentation, in the laboratory, may cause misinterpretations, some even significant to the real understanding of the content that the sender wants to spend.

The emoji above is part of Unicode 6.0, released in 2010, and is called the “grinning face with smiling eyes” (smiling face, in free translation). The GroupLens found that it can generate different interpretations according to the platform, to represent different expressions, as we shall see below.

Due to the popularity of Apple’s emoji design, it is generally used to represent an expression of grimace instead of a smile. Google and Microsoft to design this emoji comes closer to how it should be represented on all platforms.

These descriptions were proposed by Apple and Google and accepted by the Unicode Consortium in version 6.0, which basically threw all Emoji facial expressions that are widely used today.

The discussion also extends to the emoji with both hands together, which can mean “please” or “thank you” in Japanese culture, but in the West is used to indicate that the sender is praying. For some people, it also means a high five ( “knocks here!”).

To put this inconsistency to the test, they showed five versions of the same emoji for more than 300 people who needed to answer four questions about the 22 most popular Emoji human expressions. Respondents were asked to describe the emoji and judge their feelings, extremely negative (-5) to very positive (+5).

The disparity you can see on the scale above. The researchers point out that there are indeed a potential for miscommunication. Of the 22 tested emoji nine have a variation of more than two points on the scale. It is worth remembering, the unique interpretation of the people shown emoji.

Imagine someone who has an iPhone is talking to an Android user, with a pure version of the system. The second, the Google platform, send the emoji up to indicate a positive expression (+4), but the first from Apple meant as a negative (-1). The researchers accounted for this confusion below:

In the messages, Abby said it was a meeting and use the emoji to represent you are happy with it. Bill, on the other hand, sees a face next to the message and think that the meeting was not so good. In response, he says he feels sorry for the things have gone wrong. Abby gets confused.

Of course, this situation can be avoided in common messengers like WhatsApp and Telegram that unifies the emoji to the design of Apple. But the researchers’ intention was to show that, yes, there is a Emoji fragmentation on the Internet and the devices connected to it. There are 10 different designs! Who needs all this?

In the study, another common confusion was interpreted as a signal to stop or as a palm in the version of Apple while on Google (which is not so different) said it looked more like a praise. The official description of it is “someone raising both hands in celebration.”

Finally, some interesting statistics. The researchers found that if you send an emoji through two platforms, the sender and the recipient will interpret the emoji with 2.04 points difference in the sense of scale created by them. However, even if the emoji is sent within the same platform, the difference point is 1.88.

Above, the result for the 22 emoji analyzed in the full study. Each bar graph shows the difference of the score of ill feelings interpreted in the five platforms. The line in the graph represents the average disparity in interpretation. How much difference!

The researchers also observed that the message accompanying the emoji can make it less ambiguous design. And of course, the old (and culture, technical training) influence the interpretation that the emoji will. “Psycholinguistic theories suggest that the interpretation has to be consistent between the two sides of a conversation to avoid challenges in communication,” the researchers say.

According to them, many young people have argued that the emoji is a fundamental change in the use of language. And with all these miscommunications that emoji can cause, it’s really good we got a consensus of what that smiley face means (and several others).

Have you ever been misunderstood because of an emoji?