Every year, emoji oversight organization Unicode decides upon new emoji to join the collection. There was a rifle emoji on the proposed list for 2016, but thanks to Apple’s considerable influence, it was nipped in the bud.
A Buzzfeed report details the story behind the doomed semi-automatic rifle emoji. According to its article, the rifle emoji was already in the encoding process — and even included in the Android N developer preview, as seen above — when Apple pushed to remove it.
Apple is the largest member of the Unicode organization, it owns a platform used by billions of people, and after its spat with the FBI, is one of the most public faces of messaging apps. As a result, it has considerable influence over the Unicode body, which Buzzfeed says it wielded to kill a semi-automatic rifle emoji:
“According to sources in the room, Apple started the discussion to remove the rifle emoji, which had already passed into the encoding process for the Unicode 9.0 release this June. Apple told the consortium it would not support a rifle on its platforms and asked for it not to be made into an emoji. “I heard Apple speak up about it and also Microsoft,” one member present at the discussions told BuzzFeed News.”
The gun was supposedly going to be included because of shooting’s part as an Olympic sport, but it’s not hard to see why it’s contentious. Semi-automatic rifles might be accepted as a way of life in the US, but Unicode is a worldwide body, and emoji is a universal standard. A gun-control campaign had already protested the inclusion of the rifle emoji last year, saying “it would be familiarising the image of a weapon, which is not a good idea.”
The controversey itself is reasonably small — I don’t think one emoji is going to have any effect on gun culture — but it’s an interesting insight into how emoji has slowly but surely become politicized. Emoji to match every skin color appeared last year, a small but significant step in expanding the emoji vocabulary. With the latest development, we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that the emoji language is censoring the concept of rifles.