Interested in miscommunicating? Use emojis.

Research has backed up what we always suspected. Many of us don't know what emojis mean.

The visual nature of emojis leaves them open to misinterpretation and confusion.  Add to that the fact that different platforms render emojis differently, and the potential for miscommunication is huge.

Researchers at GroupLens Research based at the University of Minnesota, conducted a survey to discover whether people are interpreting emojis in the same way.  They found that not only do some interpretations differ wildly, but that each platform has its own emojis which may look completely different to the one the sender intended.  Overall 110 renderings of various emojis (that is the different versions of them produced by different platforms) were analysed.

Respondents were asked to describe the meaning of 15 specific emojis using ten words or less and then using just one or two words.

The researchers measured the emojis for a ‘misconstrual score’ – how much interpretations of the same emoji vary. 44 of the 110 emojis ranked a misconstrual score of 2 or higher, showing just how many emojis are subject to misinterpretation between sender and recipient.

The ‘grinning face/smiling eyes’ emoji is the one subject to the most diverse interpretations.  In fact, Microsoft’s version of this emoji was the most disagreed upon emoji covered by the survey.  44% considered this sentiment of this emoji to be negative, and 54% labelled it positive.

The findings show that differences of opinion about meaning do not just happen between different renderings and different platforms but that users on the same platform can also disagree about meaning. However, cross-platform mis-interpretation is higher.

The researchers’ full paper is available as a pdf here