Emojis have a special power to acquire meaning in real time, as some have theorized. “Unlike words, we know exactly when each individual emoji came into existence and are pre-warned of new ones,” reads a 2021 academic paper on the evolving meaning of emojis.
Keith Broni, the editor in chief of Emojipedia.com, a reference site and emoji archive, said the “versatile” saluting hands emoji had not climbed the charts until very recently. As of this writing, it is the fifth most clicked-on emoji on its site, according to its Google analytics reporting. “This is the kind of stuff that happens with emojis all the time,” he said in a phone call. A symbol can be “sitting on the keyboard for years before its moment happens,” he said.
Mr. Broni says that the surge in saluting hands reminds him of previous emoji trends, like when people’s use of the scarf emoji quadrupled after Taylor Swift dropped her 2021 version of the song “All Too Well.” (In it, she discusses the scarf that she left at then-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal’s house.) Before it officially debuted in 2021, the saluting hands emoji was one of the “most requested” from Emojipedia users, Mr. Broni said.
In the future, Mr. Broni said, the emoji’s use will probably ebb and flow, but he believes it will remain much higher profile than before Twitter employees deployed it. “It’s certainly going to diminish over the next month or so,” he said. “But will it return back down to a low level? I would say no.”
As a symbol, tech company employees seem to use the salute to loosely identify as service people who are banding together, which can seem like an overreach to some observers.
“I will go on the record saying that all public behavior from Silicon Valley is deeply self-aggrandizing and kind of cringe,” said Ryan Broderick, who covers digital culture in his Substack newsletter, “Garbage Day.” For Mr. Broderick, who, like most tech reporters, has been watching the changes at Twitter closely, the question is: What happens after the saluting-face emoji loses steam? He wonders if the small gesture of solidarity will prompt tech company employees to take up collective labor action and unionize.