They say the language of love is universal, and nothing showcases this better from a technological perspective than a good romantic emoji.
Transcending dialects, regions, devices and platforms these little icons of emotion have been embraced the world over.
More recently, the digital images have also come to represent a more inclusive view of love, with emojis now featuring same-sex couples and families alongside the existing love-related icons.
While many were thrilled that emojis now showcase a more representative vision of romantic love, others have protested against them and in some countries including Russia and Indonesia the backlash has been so severe that the respective governments have even threatened to ban their use in-country.
Here we run through some of the most interesting reactions, statements and statistics around the launch of LGBT emojis internationally.
Americans use LGBT emojis the most
The USA has embraced LGBT emojis with open arms and the figures show that people in the USA are using them 30% more, on average, than users from other countries (followed in second place by Canada and thirdly Malaysia).
The introduction of same-sex marriage in the USA last summer has no doubt contributed to a spike in usage, but the stat shows regardless that users have favourably adopted the new designs.
American LGBT news and politics site The Advocate reported positively when Apple first introduced the new emoji range that:
“The latest Apple operating system update includes a new set of diverse, LGBT emoji for users to send via iMessage to friends, family, and loved ones…Social media was abuzz with positive responses to the new emoji, especially on Twitter.”
An example of mixed reaction to LGBT emojis in the U.S.
Russian police investigate Apple for ‘gay propaganda’
Local Russian media reported that Russian police were investigating Apple over the inclusion of gay emojis into the operating system as they fall foul of Russia’s controversial anti-homosexuality laws.
The so called “gay propaganda law” is supposed to prevent “promotion” of homosexuality to minors. The emojis were therefore classified as in breach of this law for showcasing “non-traditional family types” to children.
Russian politician Vitaly Milonov urged Russia’s consumer rights body to ban Apple’s iOS8 in a statement to local news. He pushed for a Russia-specific version of the service to be released which removed the emojis in question or alternatively labelled them as suitable only for persons over the age of 18+.
Indonesian messaging app Line forced to drop LGBT emojis
Line, the most popular messaging app in Indonesia, was pressured to remove gay-themed emoji stickers from its systems after government authorities requested that they block subscribers from using them. Ministry of communication spokesperson, Ismail Cawidu, stated that the drive stemmed from the fact that local social media should respect what he described as Indonesia’s norms and culture.
Although homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, the country does have the largest Muslim population in the world and a strictly conservative attitude towards LGBT themes prevails in the media and popular culture.
Having removed the emojis in question from their app store, Line issued a statement apologising for the stickers. In the post, they said that they understand the images are “considered sensitive” and left some users feeling “uncomfortable”. They explained that the images were removed in line with a “global benchmark for screening content that is sensitive from the perspective of local culture”.
While Line has removed the stickers from its store, it is not clear whether the government will be successful in convincing Facebook and WhatsApp to remove their comparable LGBT themes emojis within Indonesia also, although authorities are putting pressure on them to do so.
Line’s LGBT stickers
Cultural sensitivity and freedom of speech
Emojis may be fun, frivolous and flirty, but the reaction to the launch of these LGBT themed icons has ignited deeper discussions around the topics of cultural sensitivity and freedom of speech.
While attitudes may differ around how best to balance consideration for local cultural practices and laws with inclusion and non-discrimination, undoubtedly the emojis showcase just how distinctly users and governing bodies from different cultures can react to the very same media.
For more on messaging, read Private messaging is social’s next big ad frontier.