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Emojis Reveal How Minorities Tweet the Bible Differently

Here are the Top 10 verses shared on Twitter with darker vs. lighter skin tones.
Emojis Reveal How Minorities Tweet the Bible Differently

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

If you have tweeted this Bible verse (Prov. 18:22, NIV) along with an emoji depicting a specific skin tone, there’s an 86 percent chance it had a darker skin tone rather than a lighter one.

It’s an example of how Twitter illustrates racial and cultural contrasts in the church. Nothing in the verse itself implies a skin tone, but it appears to resonate more with people who tweet darker-toned emojis.

Last year, the Unicode Consortium, the group that ratifies emojis, approved “skin tone modifiers” for emojis of people and body parts. The default tone for these emojis is usually Simpsons yellow (it varies by platform). But users can optionally set them to one of five tones, from pale to dark.

More than half of the time, people use the default emoji skin tone. Since April 9, 2015, when these tones first arrived on Apple’s iOS, people chose a specific tone about 45 percent of the time. (Only certain emojis allow you to specify a tone.)

Andrew McGill of The Atlantic recently wondered “Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji,” finding that light-toned emojis are less common on Twitter than demographics would imply.

Though three out of four Twitter users are white, only about 48 percent of skin tone modifiers on Twitter reflect the two lighter tones, while 52 percent reflect the three darker tones.

McGill posits that affirmatively identifying as someone with light-toned skin feels “uncomfortably close to displaying ‘white pride,’ with all the baggage of intolerance that carries.”

There’s a similar distribution when people share Bible verses on Twitter and include a skin tone modifier: 50.1 percent use the two lighter tones, and 49.9 percent use the three darker tones.

Overall, the number of those tweeting out Bible verses with skin tones is very small. With 40 million tweets every year citing a Bible verse (admittedly, half of them are from bots), only 778 have been tweeted with skin tones by at least 20 different people. “Praying hands,” “praise hands,” and “pointed fingers” are among the most popular emojis that are used in Bible tweets.

Most of the time, the similarities outweigh the differences. Of the 778 verses analyzed, 437 of them (56%) are evenly split between darker- and lighter-toned emojis.

Topics like prayer, worship, and hurtful words had the broadest applicability across skin tones. (Since April 2015, only 870 tweets have cited a Bible verse that included both darker and lighter tones in the same tweet.)

But the differences can be striking. Consider Proverbs 18:22, above: 17 people have tweeted it with lighter tones, compared to 104 with darker tones.

Conversely, 279 tweeters have tweeted Psalm 56:3 (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”) using lighter tones, compared to 77 who used darker tones.

Bible Gateway now allows users to search the Bible for more than 330 emojis across more than 50 English Bible translations, in advance of World Emoji Day on July 17.

Here are the Top 10 verses (all NIV) most likely to be tweeted with either darker or lighter tones:


Verses with darker-toned emojis

Verses with lighter-toned emojis


Psalm 37:25 “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Psalm 33:12 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.”


Ecclesiastes 9:11 “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”


1 Thessalonians 4:11 “… and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…”

Psalm 63:4 “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”


Proverbs 18:16 “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.”

Colossians 1:17 “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”


Habakkuk 2:2 “Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.”

Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”


Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

John 16:22 “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”


Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Psalm 39:7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.”


Philippians 4:20 “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”


Proverbs 16:7 “When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.”

Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”


Psalm 27:3 “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Psalm 103:8 “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”

This next table draws from a crowdsourced topical Bible, and is in some ways simply measuring the semantic similarity of these topics. So consider broad patterns rather than specifics:


Topics with darker-toned emojis

Topics with lighter-toned emojis


obtaining wealth

thankful life



God is love





money management

long-distance relationships


material wealth

character of God


work ethic

God’s grace


peer pressure

being happy



holy communion


setting goals

Jesus’ love



being saved

Stephen Smith analyzes Bible data at OpenBible.info.

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