Unicode comment in Immaterial Labor Union

image from TR52
image from TR52

The comment on Unicode’s Technical Report 52, which was the result of a workshop in Arhus with Femke Snelting and Peggy Pierrot got republished in the 7th Immaterial Labor Union Zine.

The Immaterial Labor Union, initiated by Lídia Pereira, is a decentralized labour union which occupies the space of the “social factory”: GAFA.

Each edition of the Zine helps to deconstruct what it means to equate social media with labor. Every new issue then tackles another piece of the digital economy puzzle and brings a better understanding of our condition as workers.

The 7th edition is themed around “Immersive Advertisement”. Some of the concerns raised in the comment on TR52 are explicitly based around this topic. One of the effects of the so called “Skin Tone Modifiers” for the Unicode emoji is that it becomes logical to separate content based on percieved racial qualities. In the comment we ask “Should Unicode-compliant search engines differentiate results according to modifier categories?” In other words, should one get different search results for 👍🏻, 👍🏿 and 👍🏽? This already seems to be the case with the search engine of Instagram1.

Additionally these segregating mechanisms not only become enacted through ‘Unicode compliance’ but rather increasingly become part of the funding models of advertising-driven social media. Facebook’s proud launch of ‘Ethnic Affinity Marketing’ then becomes a case in point.

The solutionist process of implementing emoji modifiers stages race, gender and technologies in a way that seems exemplary of how identity politics is being transformed from a cultural issue into a technical challenge and eventually into a commercial asset. In that sense segregating search results on social media according to race, for these companies, is then not conceived as a bug, but as a feature.

  1. “When Instagram released its Emoji Hashtags, allowing search by emoji for the first time ever, it decided to keep all skin tones separate. A search for #👍🏻 pulls up different results than #👍🏿. The result? A racially segregated Instagram."source ↩︎