Cities are still learning to navigate the sometimes fraught world of social media. And as city-specific emoji become more common, the cute images — like everything else in the public lexicon — begin to raise questions of representation. A white web developer, for example, trying to capture New York City in symbols won’t necessarily know what most accurately represents the cityscape to members of the Puerto Rican or Hasidic Jewish communities, as Jackie Strawbridge explored last year for Next City.
The city of Boston got more than one citizen-led lecture recently on this theme. Following a public outcry, the city asked messaging app company Snapchat to pull 12 new filters meant to symbolize local neighborhoods, the Boston Globe reported. The images were commissioned by the city to be used in the app to “showcase landmarks and neighborhoods around the city,” according to a city press release quoted by the Globe.
One questioned image: the Logan Airport control tower for East Boston.
Other filter landmarks included the Bunker Hill Monument for Charlestown, the Massachusetts State House for Beacon Hill and the Boston City Hall for Government Center. Harvard Stadium for Allston was questioned too.
“This is so offensive #EastBoston is a community with rich history and amazing ppl,” one person tweeted after the images were released. Another took to Twitter with a photo of a T-shirt reading “East Boston is not an airport.” Others simply requested that the mayor fix the emoji.
According to a statement from Mayor Marty Walsh’s office, the filters “were unfortunately posted before receiving approval,” the Globe reports. Walsh added that “moving forward, the mayor’s office will be soliciting feedback from each community to ensure any published filters appropriately reflect the neighborhood they represent.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.