The Power Of Emoji For LGBT Rights In Indonesia - MTV Voices

The Power Of Emoji For LGBT Rights In Indonesia

Last week Indonesia’s Communication and Information Ministry called for a country wide ban of LGBT emojis on messaging apps such as LINE and Whatsapp.

Ismail Cawidu, a spokesman for the Communication and Information Ministry said, “Such contents are not allowed in Indonesia based on our cultural laws and the religious norms and the operators must respect that”. He then went on to reveal that the ministry had contacted all companies that use such emojis, including Twitter and Facebook.

LINE LGBT Stickers

LINE, a popular messaging app, received a number of complaints on social media for their LGBT sticker range (above) and have since released a statement apologising for the stickers and saying they have been removed as part of a screening of “content that is sensitive from the perspective of the local culture”.

But is this a big deal? They’re just emojis, right?

Well yes, it is a big deal and actually the Communication and Information Ministry pretty much hit the nail on the head for why the emojis should be kept when citing that they should be removed. As a part of his statement, Cawidu cited the particular area of concern around stickers and emojis is that the bright colours could appeal to children. This is precisely why it’s so important LGBT emojis are included.

In Indonesia it isn’t illegal to be gay, although according to the 2013 United Nations report, laws “generally do not recognize or support the rights of LGBT people” and in Aceh, one of the most conservative providences in Indonesia, gay sex is punishable by caning.

Oh and to be clear, these aren’t graphic or sexual emojis in any way, they’re just cute cartoons of same-sex couples holding hands and other everyday things you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at otherwise.

So though there is clearly still work to be done, the key area where change is needed is not in law but in perceptions. If young children are exposed to LGBT emojis and stickers, even if unconsciously drawn to them by bright colours, this leads the way to changing attitudes and normalising LGBT relationships. It’s important for children to see gay couples alongside heterosexual couples from a young age in order to build a future where the LGBT community are accepted. Emojis are the perfect way to do this in a natural and fun way.

With apps like LINE caving to social pressure to remove the emojis and stickers, negative attitudes are only being encouraged.

LINE is the 6th most installed app in Indonesia; they have the power to incite real change through the simple inclusion of LGBT positive emojis and stickers. Instead they’ve been quick to cave to social pressures in an area that so dearly needs influential people and organisations to be strong in the face of negative attitudes.

The use of emojis as a form of expression continues to grow,  over 80% of smartphone users say they use emojis to communicate, over billion emojis are sent on average each day worldwide and 47% of South East Asian (specifically Vietnam, though this is a trend that reflects the region as a whole) 13-to 21-year-olds say they prefer to express their feelings through emojis.

So gone are the days when emojis were a simple gimmick; they’re now a global language with the power to change attitudes and create conversation. It’s important that the LGBT community are a part of this language if attitudes in areas such as Indonesia are ever going to change.

This isn’t the first time we’ve weighed in on the power of emojis, we even brought some to life to promote safe sex last year, take a look here!