Several years ago, Apple launched “emojis,” emoticons that depict happy faces, food, shapes, animals and all sorts of images constantly used in texts and social media posts. On Thursday, Apple’s latest update, iOS 8.3, released a new version of emojis — and a diverse one at that. While many of the old emojis had light-skinned faces, the new ones are shaded yellow. They can also be double-tapped to change the skin tone from light to dark, and anything in between. In addition, emojis of couples and families now depict heterosexual and homosexual partners, promoting all sexualities. This new update encourages diversity within the newly inclusive emoji “family,” making this update quite an innovative one.
People around the world responded to these emojis in different ways, but Clorox’s use of them has probably been the most discussed. On the day of the updated emoji release, Clorox tweeted the new emojis in the shape of a Clorox bottle and wrote, “New emojis are alright but where’s the bleach.” Twitter users lashed out immediately, angry at Clorox’s post. These unhappy responses were based on the assumption that Clorox’s post referred (directly or indirectly) to the lack of white-only emojis in the new updated version, hence the “where’s the bleach” line. Clorox removed the tweet quickly, explaining in their apology that they simply intended to refer to the lack of a bleach emoji in the iOS 8.3 update.
I find this miscommunication somewhat ironic. Communicating via social media and texting can be difficult because tone and facial expressions cannot come across through words alone. In a way, emojis are meant to help this issue. Just as their name hints, emojis can help convey emotions. A laughing emoji can suggest sarcasm, and a winking emoji may imply flirtation. Clorox’s emoji tweet, however, did just the opposite. Its use of emojis caused its message to be misread and made its public relations team act on the tweet fast.
On the other hand, Clorox’s Twitter incident says a lot about the public. If you look at the picture, none of them are faces, but all are utensils and household items. Therefore, I understand where the negative comments in response to this tweet come from, but they are a stretch. It is clear that Clorox did not intend any harm, but Apple’s new emojis touch on the sensitive, controversial subjects of race and sexuality. So, naturally, any hint of racism when incorporating the new emojis would stir up debates. People are quick to defend race and other controversial issues, which is great as it shows support for diversity. On the other hand, such defensiveness shows how judgmental people might assume others are, highlighting just how sensitive society still is toward race.
Apple’s new diverse emojis are making quite a statement, pleasing and dissatisfying many. Before, emojis were not diverse enough. Now, the emojis highlight differences, for better or for worse. Either way, people will find a cause for debate. I think the intentions of the emojis are excellent, but the results, well, are controversial.