Can emojis help promote social change?

Can emojis help promote social change?

by Danielle Thompson (June 2020)

AN Edge Hill University expert is marking World Emoji Day by exploring how the face mask emoji could encourage people to wear masks as part of the Covid-19 recovery phase.

Ahead of this annual day of recognition on Friday 17 July, Dr Linda Kaye, Cyberpsychologist, documented how symbols often play a huge role in social and political movements and can help towards the promotion of social change.

At the start of the global pandemic, experts saw an increase in the use of health-related emojis when talking about Covid-19. Recent analysis has shown that the use of the face mask and microbe emojis, were most commonly used to describe it. This analysis was undertaken by Emojipedia.

Dr Kaye, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, said: “The analysis, which took place in March 2020, was based on a sample of 49,621 tweets.

“Despite the face mask and microbe emojis being used commonly to describe Covid-19, this still didn't reach the same level of popularity as the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji, which was used nearly three times more than the face mask emoji in this time period.

“This is not to say that people were making light of the seriousness of this pandemic, rather that people were most likely continuing to engage with others in usual ways and in some cases may have been sharing ‘happy’ or ‘funny’ content as a way of maintaining high spirits during a difficult time.

“The face mask emoji is an interesting case. I recently speculated about the role the face mask emoji may have in encouraging face mask use in the general population.

“The role of emoji in social discourse and in fostering social change is not a new phenomenon and it would be interesting to see whether this face mask emoji plays a role in social recovery from Covid-19.”

Dr Kaye specialises in the research area of cyberpsychology; she is specifically interested in exploring how online settings can promote social inclusion and wellbeing. Areas of her research include: social identity and stereotypes in digital gaming; online behaviours and how this relates to perceptions and processing; and gender issues in stigmatised settings.

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