DOI: 10.36190/2021.04

Published: 2021-06-01
The Shadowy Lives of Emojis: An Analysis of a Hacktivist Collective's Use of Emojis on Twitter
Keenan Jones, Jason R. C. Nurse, Shujun Li

Emojis have established themselves as a popular means of communication in online messaging. Despite the apparent ubiquity in these image-based tokens, however, interpretation and ambiguity may allow for unique uses of emojis to appear. In this paper, we present the first examination of emoji usage by hacktivist groups via a study of the Anonymous collective on Twitter. This research aims to identify whether Anonymous affiliates have evolved their own approach to using emojis. To do this, we compare a large dataset of Anonymous tweets to a baseline tweet dataset from randomly sampled Twitter users using computational and qualitative analysis to compare their emoji usage. We utilise Word2Vec language models to examine the semantic relationships between emojis, identifying clear distinctions in the emoji-emoji relationships of Anonymous users. We then explore how emojis are used as a means of conveying emotions, finding that despite little commonality in emoji-emoji semantic ties, Anonymous emoji usage displays similar patterns of emotional purpose to the emojis of baseline Twitter users. Finally, we explore the textual context in which these emojis occur, finding that although similarities exist between the emoji usage of our Anonymous and baseline Twitter datasets, Anonymous users appear to have adopted more specific interpretations of certain emojis. This includes the use of emojis as a means of expressing adoration and infatuation towards notable Anonymous affiliates. These findings indicate that emojis appear to retain a considerable degree of similarity within Anonymous accounts as compared to more typical Twitter users. However, their are signs that emoji usage in Anonymous accounts has evolved somewhat, gaining additional group-specific associations that reveal new insights into the behaviours of this unusual collective.