When browsing the internet or social media, you've likely seen some question marks or boxes where an emoji should be. What causes this, and how can you fix it?
Emojis are everywhere online, with hundreds of tools making use of them. One of which is Emojify, an Emojipasta generator. As emojis are almost essential to properly understand some parts of the internet, having trouble seeing them can be frustrating.
What causes this?
Under the hood, bits of data known as "code points" represent emojis. Each emoji has its own code point; for example, the fire emoji (🔥) is internally
U+1F525. When displaying an emoji, your device looks up the image it should show for the given code point. When it comes across a "code point" it doesn't understand, it shows a symbol to represent an unknown emoji. This symbol is the question mark or box, depending on the device. Many people commonly refer to this symbol as "tofu" or "emoji tofu".
Over time, Unicode Consortium add new emojis. Computers and phones don't immediately get these; the manufacturer must add them in a software update. Due to this, new emojis often take a while before they gain widespread adoption. It can take over a year before the majority of people can view emojis once added.
How can I fix it?
If you see an emoji as a question mark or box, the first thing to try is updating your device. The method of doing this heavily depends on the device you're using. Here are some handy guides for a few common devices.
If you've updated your device and still can't view them, it's possible the app you're using does not support the emoji. Try using the same emoji in another app, such as a web browser. Web browsers usually use the operating system's in-built emoji setup.
If you're still having issues, it's possible the emoji isn't supported on your device yet. In this case, keep an eye out for software updates. Most manufacturers usually add support for emojis in big yearly updates, such as releasing a new major iOS version.
Problems on Windows
It's worth pointing out that Windows has notoriously bad emoji support. For example, very few flag emojis work on Windows. Instead, they show as the two-letter character code for that country. For example, the Australian flag emoji (🇦🇺) shows as
AU. Windows is also known to have issues with some "combination" emojis, such as the varying skin tone and gender couple emojis. Usually, these will show up as a few emojis in a row rather than a single emoji. For example, the "woman with a beard" emoji (🧔♀️) shows the person with beard emoji (🧔) followed by the female sign emoji (♀️).
There isn't much that you can do about fixing the issues on Windows other than hope Microsoft resolve them in the future.
Emojis not showing correctly can be frustrating, but you can usually resolve it by updating your device. In other cases, you may need to wait for an update that adds support for those emojis.
About the Author
Hi, I'm Maddy Miller, a Senior Software Engineer at Clipchamp at Microsoft. In my spare time I love writing articles, and I also develop the Minecraft mods WorldEdit, WorldGuard, and CraftBook. My opinions are my own and do not represent those of my employer in any capacity.