Reports of an anti-LGBTQ emoji sparked alarm on social media and queer outlets this week, with many questioning why such an emoji would ever have been designed.
The good news is that there is no such emoji has been designed or approved of by the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that oversees the Unicode Standard of characters that includes emojis.
The bad news is that a glitch in the Unicode Standard is being exploited to create what is essentially hate speech in emoji form.
The controversial image, resembling a crossed-out rainbow flag, is not one character. It is a line of code, in which a modifier in the form of a strike-through symbol has been applied to a rainbow flag emoji to create the offensive image.
This is comparable to how the character of the letter "e," for example, can be modified to become "é." As other reports have noted, an emoji with a strike-through can only be viewed in certain ways, such as text message window or Twitter on a mobile device. The strike-through modifier of the rainbow flag was the first to make headlines, but it appears the strike-through can be applied to any emoji.
The alt-right was quick to pick up on the offensive possibilities. On Tuesday, a message thread on Reddit — announced with a swastika symbol — cropped up to educate users on how to apply the strike-through to emojis like an Israeli flag, a mosque, and an African-American face. A crop of YouTube videos with instructions on how to construct hateful symbols have also appeared.*
this is the only emoji we needed /p>— ahmed (@ahmierda) February 20, 2019
Mathew Sherka — a cofounder of the Born Perfect campaign and a designer of the rainbow flag emoji, which was added to Unicode in 2016 — was disturbed by how the "flaw" is being exploited.
"I was not aware that this could be done with emojis and maybe nobody did," said Sherka. "Until now no one has used emojis and characters in such a way to create what I believe is hate speech."
"This is a new concern that I personally will be discussing with Unicode," he added. "This should be an easy fix, and I believe it is Unicode's interest to fix it. The worst part of this, is that whoever figured out this flaw, has used it to spread hate."
Out magazine, The Advocate's sibling publication, interviewed the Twitter user, @mioog, who is claiming credit over discovering the flaw around a month ago. The user, who claims to be a gay man named Mitchell, has been using Twitter to try to make the anti-LGBTQ symbol trend — allegedly as a means of reclaiming hate speech. “I’ve been embracing it, but it’s also dangerous for people to use it hatefully,” he told Out.
However, @mioog is also retweeting users who say being gay is a sin.
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” -Leviticus 20:13
rt if you agree
— urethra (@damptitties) February 19, 2019
As of the time of this article's publishing, the flaw was still in effect.
*The Advocate did not link to the Reddit thread or instruction videos because it has deemed the symbols a form of hate speech.