Bugging Out


It’s surprisingly frustrating when you go to use an emoji, only to find it doesn’t exist. After all, there are nearly 2,700 of the little icons. It seems ridiculous that your keyboard wouldn’t have exactly what you were looking for in any given moment … hence the existence of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, an organized body responsible for soliciting proposals for and approving new emojis. (Unicode is the company that makes emojis.)

So, it seemed like kismet when a member of that committee, Jennifer 8. Lee, put out a call for emoji proposals on a listserv of which Baltimore public health worker Marla Shaivitz is part. When Shaivitz saw the mosquito emoji on the list of potential inclusions, she was thrilled; as the digital communications manager of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs, Shaivitz often posts about the dangers of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses. (She admits, too, that the emoji would be nice to have in the case of a situation in which there are many mosquitoes).

“It made a lot of sense to me,” she says, “I was kind of surprised there wasn’t already a mosquito emoji.”

After expressing her interest to Lee, she was connected to Jeff Chertack, senior program officer for global health communications at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they crafted an 11-page proposal making a case for the pesky bug.

“It included a lot of screen shots of social media, Google trends, proof of demand, that kind of thing,” Shaivitz says. “We came at it from a public health angle.”

Public health organizations, she and Chertack posited, could use the emoji to spread awareness regarding the potential dangers of mosquitoes, such as malaria and zika. Now that it’s a reality, Shaivitz says her friends both inside and outside of the public health realm are thrilled.

As for her? When asked if she planned on using the emoji often after it joins the fray in the fall, she laughs. “I’m pretty sure I’ll use it all the time.”

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