Text messages and social media posts containing yellow emojis are perceived as having been written by white people, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say that rather than being seen as neutral, black and white, readers associate yellow emojis with white ethnicity.
The study is the first to examine how people infer aspects of another person’s identity based on their use of emojis.
Nearly 500 participants in the study – half self-identifying as black and half as white – were shown text messages, some of which contained yellow emojis while others included a darker or lighter skin-toned emoji.
Yellow emojis were not seen as neutral by either black or white reader groups.
Among black participants, 56% saw yellow emojis as more likely to signify white identity, while the figure for white participants was 63%.
Researchers found that darker and lighter-toned emojis were clear indicators of the sender’s ethnicity.
Including a darker-toned emoji caused both black and white reader groups to select a black author 80% of the time.
Similarly, including a lighter-toned emoji resulted in 80% of readers choosing a white author.
Readers could not agree on author identity for messages with no emoji, with 50% of both groups rating these messages as having a black author, while the other 50% chose a white author.
Researchers say it appears emojis can change how people perceive information that is provided to them, and this may be similar to how the way people speak can reveal information about their identity.
Dr Alexander Robertson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, co-led the study.
He said: “That people appear to use emojis both to express their own ethnicity and to understand the identity of others undoubtedly affects how they react to content containing emojis.
“This could influence things like how likely they are to believe or share certain content with others.
“Further research could offer important insights into sociolinguistics and areas like the spread of disinformation.”