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  • 07.31.15

New York Activist Group Calls For Apple To Ditch The Gun Emoji

It’s a brilliant marketing stunt, and also a tease of how complicated freedom of expression can be when corporations get involved.

New York Activist Group Calls For Apple To Ditch The Gun Emoji

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New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), a nonprofit whose mission is pretty much in the name, has aimed the barrel of its latest campaign right at Apple. It’s called #DisarmTheiPhone, and it’s asking activists across social media to “help convince Apple to remove the gun emoji and take a stand for stricter gun accessibility in America.”

“The iPhone is ubiquitous. [Guns are] on the iPhone as an option,” says NYAGV executive director Leah Barrett “We thought this was a way to bring attention to the issue [of gun violence].”

The campaign was originally created by by BBH Barn, the internship program of Bartle Bogle Hegarty NY, that approached NYAGV to take part. Barrett saw the opportunity to support what she calls a “symbolic gesture.” “We thought, why not join this campaign and raise the profile,” she says.

To be clear, Apple did not originally create the gun emoji, but it has updated the graphic for iOS. It originated with Japanese phone carriers, and is now managed by the Unicode Consortium—a universal directory for all emoji that companies like Apple can choose to adopt, or not, on their devices. Barrett said she was aware of this fact before the campaign launched. “You’ve got to start somewhere,” she said, adding that fellow Unicode gun wielder Google could be targeted by the campaign at a future date. (Notably, Microsoft skirts the gun emoji problem by depicting a toy gun.)

On one hand, you could see the request as an imposition on our freedom of speech. Emoji is, in essence, a language. And if a company like Apple removes words from that language, even if they’re technically pictures, isn’t it censorship? How far does this linguistic adjustment go? If we type the letters G-U-N should they be autocorrected to S-U-N, P-U-N, or F-U-N?

On the other hand, Apple has already made this very issue its business. In the past, Apple has banned images of guns from App Store imagery, while embracing weed. CEO Tim Cook has also come out about his own sexuality, argued passionately for LGBT legislation, and under his leadership, Apple has implemented the range of racially and sexually diverse emoji that now appear in iOS. Apple isn’t just a high profile target for NYAGV; it’s a renowned, socially conscious company that designs much of what we see around the ideals it believes in.

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“I’d like to think that Apple would put its actions behind its rhetoric,” Barrett says. “It is seen as a progressive company. I think Tim Cook has a progressive image.”

If Apple removed the gun emoji from iOS–a symbol it didn’t technically invent, but did stylize for its use–it would be a form of censorship in the name of idealism. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Apple has changed the content on our screen to depict a more idyllic world. Which is what makes this otherwise dismissible #DisarmTheiPhone campaign—an obvious and admitted attention grab by a nonprofit lobbying for gun legislation—so surprisingly loaded.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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