Emoji Decoded

While reading an article about people dying from overdosing on illegal drugs, I stumbled across an Emoji Decoded poster from the Drug Enforcement Agency. I know emoji can symbolize certain things under the radar, or illegal substances. However, it was interesting to see it published in a poster. It reminded me of a similar danger when I was in elementary school. At that time, someone was selling temporary tattoos laced with LSD. The tattoos looked like common cartoon characters, so of course there was concern over school kids getting them.

With modern technologies available the intent is the same, but the methods are more sophisticated and far reaching. I must admit when I first blogged about Snapper in 2016, the interpretive emoji specialist from “In the Mayor’s Chambers“, I only had a faint idea of how important emoji interpretation would become. My focus was on people relying on emoji, rather than written or spoken words, to communicate. To that point, I’ve noticed when I message on my iPad, emoji is offered instead of words in the predictive text area. I thought this was strange. I still rely on words to communicate, with emoji for emphasis. I’m not big on rebus messages, which are subject to a lot of interpretation.

Looking at the DEA poster, I feel stumped by some emoji. I would never guess that a banana could mean Percocet & Oxycodone. Or that a chocolate chip cookie means “Large Batch.” Or that a baby bottle could mean cough syrup. I’m assuming the cough syrup contains something strong. This took hard work and effort to decode these symbols.

The emoji faces are confusing to me, since they can be used for many different purposes. Perhaps the most puzzling to me is the red maple leaf as the universal symbol for drugs. Maybe this is because I’ve lived in Canada for a long time and it looks a bit like the Canadian flag. As far as I know, Canada doesn’t have more illegal drugs than any other country.

Like most things, context is everything. I’m sure to somebody in the DEA analyzing these messages, the emoji makes sense. As much as I love emoji as a message enhancer, is it productive for us to rely on it so much? Is it a good replacement for words? In the future, we’ll have to follow Snapper’s lead and become interpretive emoji specialists.

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