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You'll never guess what that emoji means

If verbal communication is a minefield, then nonverbal communication is an intercontinental ballistic missile. In the cold war of emoji, there is one seemingly innocent character in particular that can threaten catastrophe, especially when viewed on two different devices.

You may have noticed that the same emoji appears differently if you use it in on Facebook or Twitter, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of these applications, which offer uniformity across their own platforms, the emoji are rendered differently depending on the manufacturer of your device. This means that an emoji sent via SMS from a Nexus looks different when an iPhone displays it. And this isn’t just an aesthetic difference, the meaning of the emoji changes.

The GroupLens Research team, from the University of Minnesota, recently published their findings from a curious study to see how emoji are displayed and interpreted on different devices.

emoji several manufacturers
The same emoji as displayed on different phones. / © GroupLens

As you can see in the picture, the emoji presents a rather strained expression on iOS, Twitter and Facebook, while on other platforms it is clearly a positive, smiling face.

Appearance is one thing, but GroupLens took things further and investigated the impact the characters have on people’s emotions across five major platforms: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and LG. Participants were asked to assess the positivity or negativity of the emoji’s expression on a scale of -5 to 5.

same emoji several reactions
Apple's character is perceived as negative, ranking four points below Google's  / © GroupLens

The results shows that, across a scale of ten, the emotional impact of the “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji differs by five points, ranging from -1 on Apple to +4 on Google. The way this emoji appears on Apple devices is the same as it appears on WhatsApp and is therefore the most widespread form of the emoji. Within these boundaries, interpretation won’t vary much, but as soon as you send it via SMS to a Nexus or LG device, you’re in trouble.

The misunderstanding becomes immediately clear when looking at the different representations side by side. Apple’s creation squints with gritted teeth, presenting, with intense effort, a mix of fear, anxiety and frustration. It’s a long shout from the gleeful Google attempt.

Indeed, a quick consultation with Emojipedia reveals that, although there is an official code of emoji character names, provided through the Unicode Standard, “grinning face with smiling eyes” is commonly used as a grimace by Apple users.

“Grinning face with smiling eyes” has the widest variation in emotional impact, but plenty of other emoji also change their meaning across different devices. The findings of this extensive study are spread across ten pages, and you can read the full report here.

whatsapp emoji
As more emoji appear, there is more room for misinterpretation, confusion and broken relationships.  / © ANDROIDPIT

It’s both a humorous and meaningful study. Emoji continue to occupy more and more space in conversations both private and public, so the way they are received could be something more people begin paying attention to. If an innocent attempt to express joy comes across as a cringe or grimace, you might find your friends beginning to respond less to your emoji-riddled messages.

Have you encountered an emoji-related problems in your chats? Let us know in the comments.


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