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LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The “laugh-cry” emoji may not be as simple as an old-fashioned smiley face, but a new study finds it’s a universal language around the world. Researchers from USC say the laugh-cry is still the most popular emoji across the entire globe, even though younger users think it’s played out.

An analysis of millions of tweets in 30 countries looked at how and when Twitter users turn to over 1,700 different emojis. That review discovered the laugh-cry is still a more universally utilized sign than the traditional smiley face. Overall, the world focuses on about 100 common emojis, out of the countless faces, flags, and caricatures available on social media and smart devices.

“We hypothesize that some emojis are both more universal in scope, and globally popular, in most countries and languages,” study authors write in their report.

The findings also run contrary to previous studies which find millennials and youngsters in Generation Z think the laugh-cry is now “uncool.”

Emojis unite the world?

Mayank Kejriwal, a research assistant professor in USC’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, says their findings reveal how much people have in common, regardless of where they’re from. Kejriwal adds emojis represent the human condition and that universal emotions dominate the global conversation more than anything else.

On the other hand, the study finds symbols which display “tribalism” and the differences between cultures, such as showing off a nation’s flag, are less popular among emoji users.

To that point, although the term “emoji” actually comes from the Japanese language, researchers discovered that emojis are most popular among English-speaking Twitter users. Spanish-speaking and Arabic-speaking nations followed closely behind.

How does the rest of the world use emojis?

Outside the United States, the Philippines, Brazil, and India rank as the most frequent users of emojis. Interestingly, geography also plays a factor in how people use emojis within nations as well.

Study authors found that people in coastal cities, both inside the U.S. and internationally, use emojis more than people living inland. Part of this, they say, has to do with coastal cities generally having larger populations than other areas.

“We find that there is high density and diversity of emoji usage along the coastline and also along the borders of states, with emoji usage seeming to recede as we move away from the coastline,” Kejriwal’s team adds.

As for that popular laugh-cry face, researchers note not everyone considers it their go-to emoji. In fact, Twitter users in the Middle East actually prefer to show representations of love — with the “heart” emoji being the most popular.

As for when people break out these colorful symbols, the study finds some interesting differences when it comes to various topics — like family. While tweets in Brazil tend to feature hearts when discussing family, the USC team finds Americans rarely use emojis at all when talking about their loved ones.

The findings appear in the journal Online Social Networks and Media.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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