Interview: Why do we need a Tibetan flag emoji?

4th January 2019

This interview with Pema, one of the campaigners behind the #InsertTibetanFlag initiative, originally appeared on Youth of Tibet (@youthotibet).

The campaign hopes to have the Tibetan flag added as an official emoji, so that it is featured alongside all the other emoji flags of the world. To do this, they must submit a proposal to the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, a board made up of representatives from the big tech companies who meet yearly and decide which new emoji to add to the official selection.

Below, Pema talks about the main drive behind the campaign and explains how emoji can play a crucial role in fighting for fair representation of marginalised people like Tibetans.

If you believe that the Tibetan culture and identity should be fairly represented and if would like to see the Tibetan flag emoji added to your phone, then please support the campaign here

Why do emojis and representation matter?

Everything I’ve learnt while studying economics further convinces me that diversity and representation are not only imperative for moral and social reasons, but also in terms of economic progress and growth. Many people think of representation solely as a matter of empowerment, but that is only half of the picture. The other half is making sure that young leaders have the training necessary for them to be effective advocates. So, to continue progress in our plight for representation, we need to make sure to invest in trainings that both empower young leaders and show them how to effectively demand for positive change.

Emojis have grown to the point where they begin to hold the responsibility to fairly and adequately represent marginalized cultures and identities. Creating a Tibetan flag emoji was a topic I had thought about. Over the summer, a friend asked if I’d be interested in co-organizing a campaign for this.

I was introduced to Andrew, who I have been working on the Emoji Campaign and preliminary proposal with. The current campaign is completely grassroots, but we hope to seek some professional help as well, from graphic designers and publicists, for example. The emoji proposal process can take up to two years or more. To have the strongest proposal possible and to actually make the Tibetan flag emoji a reality, we are really going to depend on having funds available to improve every component of the campaign.

Having more buzz about our campaign gives us an extra layer of accountability. If the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee refuses our proposal, they will have more people to answer to than just our team. So far, our approach has been really simple: representation matters, so it doesn’t matter what your political stance is, we can all accept that there is a unique culture and identity that Tibetans hold. 

We have a shared history and identity, from making momos with our family or our nomadic ancestors, to going to gompas and the chubas we all wear. Those are parts of our identity, something only we as a collective community of Tibetans share. All of this would be represented with our own flag emoji. The campaign is about raising awareness and making sure that in the digital age, our identity and culture are not forgotten. It would mean a lot that our identity is being represented and has acceptance from the international community.

Shared from Youth of Tibet 

Free Tibet continues to support and endorse this campaign, which is currently crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to make the emoji possible. There is still a few days left to donate. If you are able, please do so here.