Emoji in social media

Approx read: 3 mins

Where do I need to be careful about emoji in social media?

Lots of places. That friendly wave, peace sign or heavy metal symbol can get you in hot water. Thumbs-up is thumbs-down in some parts of the world. And don’t get us started on fruit and veg.

A digital wave may be a sign in friendship for lots of folks, but for 1.3+ billion Chinese, the gesture comes across as ‘Talk to the hand.’

The peace sign, when reversed, can look like the British equivalent of the middle finger.


Headbangers and those who still use the word ‘killer’ as an unironic adjective may find the devil horn emoji cute, but in some parts of the world it means your partner is cheating on you. Unless you’re in a closed Whitesnake fan feed, look out for using this emoji in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Colombia, Uruguay, Brasil and Cuba.


Aubergines and peaches: apples and oranges?

Best just to leave aubergine and peach emoji out of the mix, even if you’re really talking about food.












The thumbs-up sign indicates empathy and approval in some parts of the world. In others, it denotes where a person can sit and spin. No-no regions include West Africa, South America, the Middle East and Sardinia.

In a survey spanning 1200 participants across 40 global locations, only 61% reported the symbol to mean ‘OK.’ 27% of people don’t use it. 3% consider it a sexual insult. To avoid confusing or insulting 30% of the world, consider the smiley face, as yet not taken over by hostile forces.


How do you know what emoji to use?


If the person receiving the message is over 25, there’s a chance that she won’t understand what the heck you’re trying to communicate. If the person is over 25 and from a different culture, chances are almost certain that the images could be misinterpreted.


People from conservative cultures may find a cartoon response to a serious bit of news flippant or arrogant.


Jokes are usually culturally contextual, and what’s sent in sarcasm may be seen as earnest. Or an honest mistake can release the trolls. As in the case of Nollywood actress Mercy Johnson, who sent smiling heart eyes to a woman who had just lost her child.

If unsure, listen to your mother: ‘Use your words!’