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Emoji, Language Games and Political Polarisation

Sara Luxmoore, Jonathan Silva, Pedro Ramaciotti

Are emoji political? In an increasing body of research, emoji have variably been viewed as emotional data or personality identifiers. However, little attention has been paid to the social and political import of emoji. Using a dataset of politically active Twitter users in Poland, including 334 members of parliament and their 1,288,950 followers, we ask whether emoji are used for political self-representation, and discuss the implications for political identity formation and mobilisation online. Adapting a new method of ideal point estimation, we identify patterns in the employment of emoji in user Twitter bios across a latent political space computed from a Twitter following network. We find that emoji are used as stand-ins for offline political symbols such as [european-flag], [rainbow-flag] and [catholic-cross]. Additionally, we find that the use of emoji without recognisable political meaning, such as [fingers-v-sign], [muscle-arm], [100] and [green-leaves] is contingent on a users estimated political ideal point. Users on the left are likelier to employ [fingers-v-sign] and [green-leaves], while those on the right are likelier to employ [muscle-arm] and [100]. Using Ludwig Wittgenstein's theory of language games, we argue that this points to the use of emoji for communication of both political values and affect, and to the development of a new political language game of emoji.