Wow! Facebook introduces five emoji reactions

Masking emotions: Do you find it easier to communicate with emojis?

After years of promises, Facebook has finally updated its status reactions with five emoji-inspired buttons. Are we losing our ability to communicate effectively?

Imagine you are scrolling through Facebook. You see that someone’s dog has died. Or maybe they did badly in an exam, or they are just feeling low. You want to support them, but a ‘like’ does not feel appropriate.

It’s a common dilemma — and now Facebook has decided to solve it once and for all. As of this week, it has introduced five new ‘reaction’ buttons to accompany the classic ‘like’. There is a heart for ‘love’; a laughing face for ‘haha’; a shocked face for ‘wow’; a crying face for ‘sad’; and a red-hot frowning face for ‘angry’.

A team of Facebook engineers has been rigorously testing these reactions for the last year. They studied the most commonly used stickers and single-word comments to observe how people reacted to statuses without using the like button. They trialled the system in Spain and Ireland. It was important, they explained, that the reactions were ‘universal’.

The move reflects a phenomenal shift in digital communication. Without the context of a person’s voice or facial expression, it is easy for written language to be misconstrued. Emoticons were invented to counter that problem — and now more than six billion emojis are used every day. That’s one for almost every person on the planet. They are so popular that Oxford University Press crowned the ‘tears of joy’ emoji as the 2015 word of the year. In 2010, Fred Benenson released an emoji translation of Moby Dick.

At (smiley) face value, the rise of emojis is an emblem of the 21st century. But the idea of a pictorial language which can enhance written communication is older than you might think. In 1969, the author Vladimir Nabokov told the New York Times that ‘I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile.’

Thirteen years later, the computer scientist Scott Fahlman granted his wish. He proposed to his fellow internet pioneers that a colon, hyphen and bracket should be used to show that a writer is joking. ‘Read it sideways,’ he advised helpfully.


It is a travesty, say some, that our emotions are being reduced to a range of smiling or frowning faces. Professor Vyv Evans from Bangor University found that 72% of 18-25-year-olds find it easier to communicate with emojis than words. After thousands of years perfecting language, we have now dragged ourselves back to the age of hieroglyph.

‘Don’t be such a spoilsport!’ respond others. Human communication has never just been about words. We speak to each other through our body language, our facial expressions, our laughter. Emojis are just another string in our bow. Besides, symbols have always been powerful tools, and at the right moment a heart emoji can tell someone everything they need to know.

You Decide

  1. If you could add one more reaction to Facebook’s selection, what would it be?
  2. Do emojis improve communication, or limit it?


  1. Design an emoji that you think is missing from the current selection.
  2. Translate your favourite book into an emoji pictogram.

Some People Say...

“No one can have a meaningful conversation with emojis.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I ❤️ using emojis!
You’re not alone. The study by Professor Evans found that eight out of ten people in the UK have used emojis to communicate. (In case you were wondering, the tears-of-joy emoji 😂 is the most common.)
Does that mean I can use them in my homework? 😇
No, not unless you have been given specific permission by your teacher. The same goes for job applications, or any official correspondence. Emojis may be a common communication tool, but remember that some situations require formal rather than informal language — and emojis are definitely the latter.
You’re no fun.
Emojis are fun, but it’s good to practice many different styles of writing. In the digital world, where businesses often communicate via email, written language skills are more important than ever.

Word Watch

A symbol constructed using the alphabet or punctuation. :-)
A tiny pictoral symbol used in digital communications. ❤️ They were invented in Japan in 1995 to help people adjust to new, more casual forms of written text.
Moby Dick
A classic American novel by Herman Melville, published in 1851. It tells the story of Ahab, a sea captain intent on killing an albino sperm whale called Moby Dick. Benenson’s translation is called Emoji Dick. 🐳
Vladimir Nabokov
A Russian-American author famed for his mastery of the English language. Published in 1955 to controversy his Lolita is considered by many to be one of the best modern novels.
Scott Fahlman
The computer scientist made his suggestion on early internet message boards, which were mostly used by other computer scientists.
Ancient Egyptians wrote using a mixture of alphabetic and pictorial symbols known as hieroglyphs.

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