Smiley-ing Our Way To Peace


It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, that phrase needs to be edited to accommodate one of technology’s best gifts to the world of communication: emojis. The word does not exist in the English dictionary; even Microsoft Word gets mad and underlines it in red whenever and wherever it appears in a document. However, these tiny symbols carry a lot of power in them.

In the past, it took a lot of creativity to come up with symbols to convey emotion such as sadness through a downcast face, happiness using a smile or laughter, tears and so on and whoever was not creative enough to manipulate punctuation marks and come up with a symbol showing a smile, for example, had to rely on words. Nowadays, all it takes is the click of an image and we get to communicate feelings or send messages without having to put anything in word form.

So powerful are emojis that they have been used as part of movements. The struggle for the black race for equal treatment to their white counterparts has long been ongoing. It has seen the rise of crusades such as the fight for suffrage, civil rights movements and now Black Lives Matter. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, social media platform Twitter created a custom emoji for them that featured three fists in shades of brown. Messaging platform Whatsapp also introduced coloured emojis only two years ago.

One other movement is the natural hair movement that focuses on encouraging women with African ancestry to embrace and celebrate their natural kinky, curly and nappy hair. For the longest time, beauty was defined by long, silky straight hair, light skin and being a certain weight. The result was that many African women opted to straighten their hair using chemicals with the aim of meeting a standard set by society. Tides have changed and more African women/women with African ancestry are beginning to see the beauty in their afro-textured hair. Of course, emojis have been created to keep up and propel the movement. Welcome Afro Emoji, an application that not only features afro hair, dreadlocks and so on, but also African phrases and sayings.

Aside from that, emojis are set to become a game-changer in the legal world. Only days ago, a judge ruled that emojis were proof of intent. It was his opinion that a couple that sent a landlord a text message that included a smiley, bottle of champagne, dancing figures and more clearly intended to take the house being advertised. The landlord, who after receiving the text message believed that he had found tenants, took down an advertisement for the space only to be snubbed thereafter.

All in all, these little symbols can be used to send powerful messages and change the status quo. About two weeks ago, the BBC did a program on the use of cartoons and less confrontational messaging by the Islamic State supporters as a new propaganda tool. This is because violent images and videos are taken down by platforms such as YouTube upon flagging by users. Radicalization is a huge menace that continues to haunt many countries such as Somalia, Kenya and even the United States and the United Kingdom among others.

Messaging platforms such as Whatsapp should consider developing emojis aimed at preaching the message of peace. Emojis showing the sameness of people despite differences in race, colour, religion, tribe and other excuses used to wage wars. Like Afro Emoji which encompasses sayings as well, messages of peace could also be featured on emoji applications. Peace need not be as evasive as it is made to be. With the turn of the century and the rise and growth of a new generation, these tiny emoticons can be one of the many answers to quiet the gun.

Hawa Gaya

Lawyer, lover of the environment and a beliver in peaceful dispute settlement
Hawa Gaya