After the culmination of Today Translations’ global search for the world’s first emoji translator, the first project we shall be undertaking is the creation of an ‘Emoji Etiquette Guide’, to help people avoid emoji-based mis-communication and cross-cultural faux pas. Although we have previously touched upon certain examples in the media, the guide will be a far more conclusive look at emoji dos and don’ts from across the globe.
Marketing translations can be difficult because how important the tone of voice and how natural the message sounds in the target language. With the rise of social media, we’ve seen a lot of brands try and foster feelings of friendship and familiarity with their followers. One of the ways they’re doing this is in the use of emojis, to match their popularity amongst the public. Chevrolet even wrote an entire press release in emojis.
But, what a lot of people don’t realise is that just as a poor choice of words can cause a PR disaster, so can the wrong emoji. We’ve all heard the stories of advertising slogans mis-translated to comic effect. When KFC opened its first restaurant in Beijing, the famous slogan "Finger-lickin' good" became the not-so-appetizing phrase: "Eat your fingers off." In exactly the same way a British company might launch a campaign featuring the ‘thumbs up’ emoji to signify something good, not realising that the gesture is quite offensive in the Middle East.
Emoji’s are only getting more popular, but companies need to start checking and verifying their use of emojis for cultural interpretation. That’s where our emoji translation service comes in.
Emojis are actually being presented as evidence in criminal proceedings with increasing regularity. Phone calls and text messages are often submitted as evidence, but with the popularity of smartphones and messaging apps like Whatsapp, a significant portion of messages now contain emojis. The issue is, the judge and jury then have to try and interpret the meaning of those emojis, and research has shown the interpretation of emojis can vary from person to person.
There’s a few different scenarios. First is a ‘substitution’ in a message or social media post. For example: is sending the ‘gun’ emoji to an ex-partner a death threat? Last year a Frenchman was sentenced to three months in prison for just that. A few months later apple replaced the gun emoji with a water pistol. Or alternatively, as criminals have for hundreds of years used code words and euphemisms, could the ‘snowflake’ emoji mean cocaine?
The second is whether the presence of emojis alters the sentiment or intent of a message. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man who had been found guilty of threatening his ex-wife by way of virulent public Facebook postings. Part of Elonis’ defense relied on a stuck-out tongue emoji he’d added in at the end of one of his posts: The emoji proved he didn’t seriously want to harm his ex-wife, he said. And in 2014, British attorney Laura Saife published a Handbook of Social Media and the Law that noted how British courts are beginning to interpret emojis in the service of “determining the state of mind of the poster” or “considering if there has been an element of malice” in cases of defamation, stalking, and threats.