When we started looking into who could approve our proposal for a dumpling emoji, we were surprised to learn that the emojis – so central to the lives of ordinary Internet users across the globe – was controlled by a handful of multinational American tech corporations.
When you see or send an emoji, that emoji has likely been backed by the Unicode Consortium and approved to be standardized across platforms. Without guidance from the consortium, an emoji created for an Apple device would appear as a jumble on any other device.
So, who gets to vote on whether an emoji is included in that universal lexicon? There are currently 12 full voting members who pay $18,000 a year for the privilege. Nine of them are United States multinational tech companies: Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify, and Netflix.
The only other voting members are the German software company SAP; the Chinese telecom company Huawei; and the government of Oman.^[Lower membership tiers in Unicode include the government of India, the government of Bangladesh, the government of Tamil Nadu, and the University of California, Berkeley. Those levels include full and half votes on the Unicode Technical Committee, which oversees emoji.]
It can take well over 18 months for a proposed emoji to complete the review process, which includes gaining the approval of ISO, yet another international standards body.
The decision makers along the way are generally male, white, and engineers. They specialize in encoding. Such a review process certainly is less than ideal for promoting a vibrant visual language used throughout the world.