The Problem With the Coronavirus Emoji 🦠

Emoji changes how we talk about disease. We should change how we think through their design.

Joe Hewitt
OneZero

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Image: fotomay/Getty Images

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?

Google Trends results for the 🦠 emoji, from its inception in June 2018 to now.

Origin story

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.

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Joe Hewitt
OneZero
Writer for

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