Propose A New Emoji, But No More Flags

Propose A New Emoji, But No More Flags

Today Unicode has opened submissions for Emoji 16.0, meaning people from around the world can propose new emojis for inclusion in our global emoji keyboards. However, there won't be any new pride flags, language flags, color-based flags, or other “non-geographical” flags coming to the emoji keyboard in Emoji 16.0 or beyond.

As outlined in a blog post from Emoji Subcommittee chairperson Jennifer Daniel late last week, this new Unicode policy has been implemented due to the transient nature of many flags, and the challenges including some identities while excluding others.

As per the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee's Q4 2021 report, when the decision was officially made:

“There are significant challenges with such flag proposals, such as their transient nature (many identity flag designs have changed since their addition in 2016) and rationale (inclusion of one identity invites questions as to why other identities aren't also included and sets expectations that any identity should be supported, which cannot scale for either Unicode or vendors).”

This new policy does not mean that we will never see any new flag emojis, however: just that we are very unlikely to as they'll only be created in very limited circumstances going forward.

It also does not mean that already-existing flag emojis won't have their designs updated by emoji vendors should a nation's flag have a recognized new iteration.

To be clear, this new policy relates specifically to proposals for brand new flag emojis.

This means that from today onward the only new flags likely to appear on keyboards are those supported by vendors independently of Unicode - such as WhatsApp's support for a Refugee Nations flag via a ZWJ sequence using 🟧 Orange Square and ⬛ Black Large Square - or when new Unicode region codes are added (effectively, if or when new countries come into existence).

When it comes to when a new county comes into existence, Unicode cites its existing mechanism in its blog post.

The Unicode Consortium isn’t in the business of determining what is a country and what isn’t. That’s when the Consortium chose ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 as the source for valid country designations. ISO 3166 is a widely-accepted standard, and this particular mechanism represents each country with 2 letters, such as “US” (For United States), “FR” (France), or “CN” (China).

If a new country is given an ISO 3166 code, then an emoji flag sequence will be recommended for it automatically. Different vendors such as Apple and Google will then be expected to support it alongside other flags (though notably, Microsoft has historically never supported any emoji flag sequences).

What about the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland, and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Wales, you may ask? These nations don't have an ISO 3166 code, and yet they are included within the emoji keyboard.

While these emoji tag sequences were implemented based on a 2016 proposal, which also sanctioned a mechanism for creating further valid regional tag sequences, this implementation hasn't been expanded upon by any other vendor and Unicode has never recommended that they take action beyond 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland, and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Wales. As first noted by Unicode in a 2017 update to Unicode® Technical Standard #51 document:

"Specific platforms and programs decide which emoji extended flag sequences they will support. There is no requirement that any be supported, and no expectation that more than a small number be commonly supported by vendors."

Given this lack of a direct edict from Unicode and the technical complexities of supporting a possible 5,000+ additional flag emojis, no vendor opted to support any further tag sequences (bar WhatsApp's support for the Flag for Texas), proposals for different regional identity flags have often reached Unicode.

Historically these have all been declined after consideration by the Emoji Subcommittee. From Emoji 16.0 onwards, these proposals won't be processed at all.

If the Emoji Subcommittee recommends the addition of a Catalonia flag emoji, then it looks like favoritism unless all the other subdivisions of Spain are added.

Note that this new policy is based on future emoji flag proposals. The existing proposal for a Pan-African Flag emoji is still listed as being under consideration by Unicode, though it is not a draft candidate for Emoji 15.0.

Thus far we have focused on the geographical flags, and where alternatives to Unicode's new policy exist in this flag category. But what of identity-oriented flags such as the 🏳️‍🌈 Rainbow Flag and the 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag?

This new Unicode policy means that the recommendation of other such pride flags, like those supported by Skype's animated emoticon set, will not take place as part of Emoji 16.0 or any future batch of recommendations.

Above: alternative pride flags designs which are supported within Skype's animated emoticon set.

Unicode has cited the frequent updating/redesign of the rainbow LGBT pride flag since its inclusion in the emoji keyboard as being indicative of how identity-based flags can cause complications:

Identities are fluid and unstoppable which makes mapping them to a formal unchanging universal character set incompatible.

However, as an alternative to recommending flag emojis of this kind, or indeed different regional flags, Unicode has recommended emoji aficionados expand upon an already-commonplace practice within one of the most popular subcategories of emojis: combinations of different colorful hearts.

Hearts are among the most frequently used type of emoji and the nine colored hearts are often juxtaposed next to each other to denote markers of emotion (“I’m sorry 💙” or “love you ❤️”) and identity or affiliation that are not represented with atomic emoji in the Unicode Standard (ex. “Pan African pride ❤️️💚🖤”, “Hi I’m bi 💖💙💜”, and yes even sports teams “Go Mets! 💙🧡” ).

A recent example of this is the combination of the 💙 Blue Heart and 💛 Yellow Heart emojis being used to emulate the 🇺🇦 Flag for Ukraine, with the added explicitly positive associations that the classic heart ideogram is known for.

Additionally, there are three new colorful hearts listed as draft candidates for Unicode's upcoming Emoji 15.0 recommendations: Light Blue Heart, Grey Heart, and (finally) a plain Pink Heart.

Above: Unicode proposal document for Emoji 15.0 includes a pink heart as well as a light blue heart and grey heart.

So while new flags may not be forthcoming beyond a very particular set of geographic circumstances or vendor-specific sequences, heart emojis could go on to represent all sorts of associations and identities with an expanded color palette.

If you'd like to learn more about the different mechanisms underlying the different existing flag emojis (Flag Sequences, Tag Sequences, and ZWJ Sequences), we have a comprehensive explanation here.

💡 Have a non-flag emoji idea?

So, that's a no to any new flag emoji proposals. But if you have an idea for a new non-flag emoji - a smiley, person, animal, foodstuff, or symbol - now's your chance to make it happen.

All going well, you could join the likes of German radio host and friend of Emojipedia Gero Simone, who successfully proposed the 🪩 Mirror Ball emoji for inclusion in last year's Emoji 14.0 recommendations alongside 🫶 Heart Hands and 🫠 Melting Face.

You can read Unicode's comprehensive guidelines for emoji submissions (also summarized in their recent blog post) and start crafting your proposal submission ahead of the Emoji 16.0 deadline of July 31 2022.

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