“Unicode, the technical organization in charge of selecting and overseeing emojis, debated and ultimately decided to remove a rifle from its list of new emoji candidates in 2016, according to multiple persons who attended its quarterly meeting last May,” Charlie Warzel reports for BuzzFeed News. “The decision was led and championed by one of tech’s biggest companies: Apple.”
“According to sources in the room, Apple started the discussion to remove the rifle emoji, which had already passed into the encoding process for the Unicode 9.0 release this June. Apple told the consortium it would not support a rifle on its platforms and asked for it not to be made into an emoji,” Warzel reports. “The other candidate the consortium rejected during the meeting was ‘modern pentathlon,’ which depicts a man firing a pistol… The rifle appeared to be part of a set of Olympics-themed emojis (rifle shooting is an Olympic sport), intended to coincide with this year’s games in Rio, alongside emojis like ‘gymnastics,’ ‘handball,’ ‘water polo,’ ‘person doing cartwheel,’ and a series of gold, silver, and bronze medals. An archived page of 2016 emoji candidates on Unicode’s website included the rifle as recently as April 11 of this year and showed three different versions of the gun, including one with a scope and multiple colors. The archived Unicode page describes the different possible use cases for the rifle as ‘marksmanship,’ ‘sport shooting,’ and ‘hunting.'”
“While Unicode’s rifle debate is a far cry from any actual policy discussion, regulating emojis based on their potential controversy is further evidence of the broad, unexpected influence of tech’s biggest companies. Many inside Unicode disagree that emoji rises to the level of an emerging language, but there’s little debate that it has quickly become a meaningful, global form of expression and communication. And Unicode, which includes Apple, Google, and Microsoft among its voting members, is in the precarious position of governing emoji’s evolution. For those wary of Big Tech’s outsize power, this is another troubling example,” Warzel reports. “Gun control issues aside, the rifle debate and the middle finger emoji backlash highlight one of Unicode’s enduring tensions: that this highly technical group has unexpectedly been tasked with building what some see as the first digital universal language.”
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