Rutgers community discusses Indonesia's ban on 'gay-friendly' emojis

<p>Photo Illustration | While the Indonesian government has not banned gay-friendly emojis, backlash from citizens has forced their removal from at least one app.</p>

Photo Illustration | While the Indonesian government has not banned gay-friendly emojis, backlash from citizens has forced their removal from at least one app.

After significant public backlash, the Indonesian messaging app, LINE removed emojis depicting same-sex couples from its catalog in early February. According to the Washington Post, the Indonesian government will take steps toward removing similar emojis from other apps, like WhatsApp.

Something as small as an emoji can alarm people, and there can be significant reactions on the political level, said Kathleen Riley, a professor in the Department of Anthropology.

“It was simply the fact that (the emoji) existed on the site. (The Indonesian government is) offended by having it there in their public sphere," she said. "It becomes scary to them."

The removal of the icons may lead to further action from the Indonesian government — an outright legislative ban on homosexuality may be possible, she said.

According to a United Nations report released in 2014, no such ban exists exists at the national level. Local laws occasionally differ. In some provinces, LGBT individuals are discriminated against and may be caned for expressing a certain sexual identity.

“These are cultures where many of the indigenous cultures within the sphere of these places are peoples who regarded homosexual interaction and third genders as common,” Riley said.

The dominant religion, she said, can determine the general public's sexual ideology. With more than 200 million Muslims, Indonesia is now the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. But this was not always the case.

Anti-homosexual ideology took hold in the country over time, Riley said. This means institutions do change over time.

With regard to marriage equality, change can already be seen in the U.S. and Ireland, she said. Working against that change will only lead to more debate. By drawing attention to the use of this emoji, the government is opening the door for pushback.

“The shutting down in response to people rising up is an inevitable part of the process of change,” Riley said. “(The government) misjudges the power of reacting to the ‘little emoji.’ They have laid the groundwork for their own demise."

The widespread use of mass media will make it difficult for a ban of the gay-friendly emojis to be effective, said Frank Bridges, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies.

In 2015, 87.4 percent Indonesian Internet users used social networks, according to an eMarketer report.

Unlike the past, when news centered on local information, global news is accessible from anywhere, Bridges said. Mobile technology and social media have left few boundaries to the spread of information intact.

“With social media you have communication with a wide number of people. Many people can discuss a news story like this one,” he said.

Though it may not be successful, a country trying to stop the use of a form of communication, like an emoji, is highly problematic, he said. People exposed to these images will find other ways to communicate the ideas, possibly through the use of other icons.

“Even when they try to stop it in one area, they cannot stop it in all areas,” Bridges said.

The issue about sexuality is that it has little do with technology or emoticons and more to do with biology, he said.

“This (ban) will not make people gay or not gay. To say ‘don’t use an emoji’ and pretend homosexuality does not exist is not going to work,” he said.


Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Find her on Twitter @TheFranWeekly for more.

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