The male pregnancy emoji introduced recently and a post on r/VolunteersforUkraine (Images: Apple, Reddit)

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I’m a big emoji guy. To me, they’re the facial expressions of our digital self. I think in the early years of social media and mobile messaging, they were coded as informal or childlike, but now they’re recognised as a standard form of online communication. I even feel comfortable enough to send them to my boss (although maybe that says more about me).

Emojis are part of the Unicode Standard, developed by the Unicode Consortium.

This standard includes everything from the Cyrillic small letter Ksi, ѯ, to the “face blowing a kiss” emoji. Once included in the standard, you can be sure that the symbol will be universally displayed across digital devices and platforms — i.e. if you send someone a “thumbs up” emoji, it’ll show on their device as a thumbs up.

Becoming a Unicode-accepted emoji is a big boon for a demographic, item or activity. That’s why when emojis were included in modern smartphones worldwide at the beginning of the 2010s, people who spent their days considering whether to add characters from obscure scripts were suddenly cast into the spotlight as many, many more people started demanding that there be a “frowning poo” emoji (I’m not joking about that emoji, which legitimately caused a schism in the committee).

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New emojis introduced in the latest iPhone update (Image: Apple)

A month or two back, I met with the Emoji King Jeremy Burge. Burge is an Australian who started up the seminal online emoji resource Emojipedia. He created it after he tried to find out the history of an emoji and realised nowhere else had it. Now Emojipedia is a thriving company that he sold off last year, and Burge sits on the Unicode Committee.

Burge tells me he’s been a champion for ensuring emojis come with male, female and neutral gender options. With this latest set of emojis — Unicode 14.0 for those keeping count — they’ve introduced a pregnant male emoji, something that has been in the works for nearly half a decade. Burge tells me removing gender bias has been a surprisingly arduous task.

The “dancer” emoji, he points out, is clearly female. A “male dancer” was subsequently added. The introduction of a gender-neutral dancer is causing a headache because it would require redefining the current “dancer” to “female dancer”. Doing so would change the meaning of every time the dancer emoji had been used in the past in its original context of it being female. I’m tired just thinking about it!

Having a rare opportunity to talk to one of the world’s emoji gatekeepers, I thought I’d try to get the scoop on what emojis might be next. Burge surprised me when he told me that, actually, he’s not red hot on adding too many more (“representation is important but I’m not sure we need another abacus or lab coat emoji”).

So get your emoji nominations in soon or miss out!

Hyperlinks

Morrison’s new disinformation laws acknowledge big tech can’t be trusted to hold itself to account

One for noting but the Morrison government continues to stack on new laws that it hopes will burnish its credentials as tough on big tech. Ironically, this is a concession that they were too soft on tech companies until just recently. (Crikey)

Australia pressured Google and Facebook to pay for journalism. Is America next?

The one-year anniversary of the news media bargaining code went past without that much of a review from Australian media. Here’s a comprehensive review from the US press supported by Australia’s Judith Neilson Institute. (Columbia Journalism Review)

Launch of .au domains will allow Australians to drop .com from web addresses

I saw a bit of grumbling about how this is a cash grab from registrars — businesses probably need to register .au as well as .com.au — but I think having the .au is neat (Guardian Australia)

Financial watchdog ASIC puts ‘finfluencers’ on notice

If you don’t know what this is about, it probably sounds insane that people are getting their investing advice from TikTok randoms, but it’s very prevalent and essentially unregulated so far. (The Australian)

Anti-vaxxers say they raised $280,000 for flood support. People are asking how the money’s being spent

A lot of online fundraisers popped up around the Queensland and NSW flooding. Unsurprisingly, Australia’s conspiracy theorists and fringes got in on it too. (Crikey)

Content Corner

This week, I want to share an update on a story from a few weeks ago about online communities. I wrote about subreddits and discords like r/VolunteersforUkraine that had popped up trying to help people go over to fight or volunteer in Ukraine, and the Australians who join these forums.

These places were, perhaps understandably, a mess — flooded with a lot of well-meaning but completely unprepared potential volunteers. More often than not, they were oblivious to their complete lack of preparedness and aptitude too.

Enthusiastic volunteers to go to Russia (Image: Twitter/@KevinHBell)

Well, the reality of war has hit these groups harder than I expected. Last week, it was reported that Russia had struck a training base containing foreign legion trainees with a missile killing dozens of people.

Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick shared a tweet from Emerson T Brooking who called it “the largest mass-casualty event to affect a single subreddit”. Gulp.

Soon after the attack, the subreddit was filled with posts of people having claimed to be there.

Posts made on r/VolunteersforUkraine about a Russian attack (Image: Twitter/@Biscuithammer0)

“Yes, I was there and blown off the top bunk of my bunk bed in the barracks by the first missile,” one person wrote.

“No one wants to die in an unfair fight, after being fucking pummelled by massive cruise missiles today — yeah I kind of want people to think twice before turning their life upside down to go and volunteer,” another said.

The way that platforms like Reddit, Facebook and TikTok present everything makes it all feel unreal because users are exposed to the most extreme stuff every day — disasters, freak accidents, crime — and we’re OK. But no matter how much we’re trained into thinking that nothing can hurt us, war is still war.