New emoji skin colors are bringing Twitter TWTR, -1.33% users together.
Despite concerns that emoji of different skin tones would be used to make racist comments, the addition of racially diverse emoji has been relatively positive, a new study found. Analyzing a sample of one billion tweets, researchers at University of Edinburgh found the majority of users choose skin tones similar to their own, and when they used different skin tone to refer to somebody else, the posts were mostly positive.
Apple added more diverse skin tone options to its emoji collection in 2015 at the suggestion of the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that approves new emojis.
Since then, some have complained about white people using non-white emoji inappropriately, but the University of Edinburgh research showed this is uncommon. In fact, users with light skin were less likely to modify emoji at all, sticking with the default yellow skin. Darker-skinned users were more likely to match the emoji to their own skin tone, which “underlines the importance to users of being able to express their identity online,” researchers say.
“The introduction of skin tone choices for emojis has been a success in representing diversity and their extensive use shows that they meet a real demand from users,” Walid Magdy, professor at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, who led the research said. The majority of tweets where an emoji was darker than the skin of the author of the tweet were positive, the study found.
In addition to new skin tones, the Unicode Consortium has recently added other emoji to diversify the set. In the past, female emoji only existed in beauty-focused roles like dancer, bride, and queen, while male emoji for doctors and businessmen were provided. In 2016, the Unicode Consortium added 72 emoji, including 11 new professions, and added female options for existing male professions, including scientists, mechanics, and farmers.
The use of images in technology has been a contentious topic in recent years, even when it comes to something as lighthearted as emoji. Apple replaced its pistol emoji with one of a toy water gun in a stance against gun violence. In January, Google was criticized because its algorithms were unable to analyze the faces of black users. And facial recognition software has higher error rates for darker skinned users than lighter skinned users across a variety of programs, a February study from MIT found.
There could be other changes afoot in the emoji universe. Apple recently submitted suggestions for emoji of people who use wheelchairs, guide dogs, hearing aids and other accessibility devices.