The Problem With the Coronavirus Emoji 🦠
Emoji changes how we talk about disease. We should change how we think through their design.
SARS-CoV-2, coronavirus, or just… 🦠 ?
As the virus has spread exponentially, use of the 🦠 (“microbe”) emoji has spiked. Jeremy Burge, chief emoji officer at Emojipedia, told me that use of the 🦠 has increased 1,519% from August 2019 to April 2020, although it still represents only 0.06% of total emoji use. While still a periphery character in our planet’s shared language of pictograms, the image has become the accepted online shorthand for Covid-19. But where did it come from? Who made it? And how does it change how we should all think about the world’s fastest-growing language?
For an emoji to make the next OS update, it is first proposed to the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit that forms the bridge between computing and all spoken and written languages. Part of its aim is to enable people around the world to use computers in any language, so emoji, as a ubiquitous, digitally native lexicon, falls under its stewardship.
Anyone can propose an emoji. The argument for inclusion needs to conform to strict guidelines, with a clear use case put forward justifying the potential popularity of the emoji.
The 🦠 emoji was first proposed in April 2017 and released in 2018 as part of Unicode Version 11.0, a landmark update that included new skin tones. The proposal, guided by the International Council for Science and the American Geophysical Union, requested a broader suite of scientific emojis to reflect science in everyday conversation. With more than 25 million followers, the “I Fucking Love Science” Facebook page was used as an example that science had made its home across social media. These emoji from the proposal made the cut: 🦠 🧭 🥽 🥼 🧮 🧪 🧫 🧬 🧯.