The Internet has a broad range. At the very, very top, you have sites and groups dedicated to spreading positivity and pro-sociality however they can. Most of the places people spend most of their time are essentially neutral. And then there are the dark places.

There is no bottom to the Internet. It goes down forever. This is not a property of the Internet, however: it is a property of humanity. There is an upper limit to how good we can be, but there is no bound on our potential for evil.

Previous generations have been able to mostly ignore their darker sides. That’s a two-edged sword. Facing demons isn’t fun. On the other hand, the consequences of a society that hasn’t faced its demons could be disasterous.

In a mostly successful attempt to make the Internet a more accessible place for people with language barriers (including some disabilities), emoji have become part of Unicode, and expanded far beyond the limits of sanity.

Before emoji, there were emoticons. We had Latin-1 (and called it ASCII) and we made do with sideways faces made out of punctuation marks. When everybody got UTF-8 on their terminals, we gained the ability to express shrugs, table-flips, lascivious glances, and more. These are still used occasionally but they’re not very convenient for most users, so the standards are emoji and emoticons still.

Emoji have bent over backwards to be inclusive of marginalized groups. Their vocabulary is not large enough to form a pidgin tongue, but they’re trying. If there is a language barrier between two people who want to cooperate, and they both have emoji in their toolbox, it won’t be long before they’re using them. These are fantastic developments.

Emoji have one nagging problem, though: the range of states you are allowed to express is narrow, and some of that is by design. We want the Internet to be a friendly and positive place, so we make more happy emoji than sad, and we try hard not to let people express anger. Emoji give people an emotional vocabulary that is too small, and contains a dangerous bias.

Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. The American “it could never happen here” is quickly giving way to “oh shit, it’s happening here.” In a world where it’s now possible to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the globe, with whom your only commonality are humanity, it’s both possible and necessary (another two-sided coin) for us to expand–no, to complete–our emotional vocabulary and use it.

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