Did the robber emoji really exist? I try to find out

I would have gone through life happy without having seen this Tweet by @dinasimp.

I stared at the picture and thought, “There’s no way it shouldn’t exist.” I can swear on my life that I’ve seen an emoji of a robber kind of like that somewhere on my iOS emoji keyboard. I swiped through the many different emojis available, and when I passed the police emojis I thought that the robber emojis should be there somewhere. To my surprise, the robber emoji I thought existed… did not exist.

I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. The replies were flooded with people who are convinced it existed before. There is also a thread on Reddit of users trying to figure out where they saw it, and tried to find it—but with no avail.

Could it be the Mandela effect?

To anyone not that familiar with the Mandela effect, it’s a wild thing. It refers to false memories that can be shared with multiple people, and it’s far more common nowadays with social media and the internet.

The name came from a false memory phenomenon from 2010 when self-described ‘paranormal consultant’ Fiona Broome said that the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela was in the 1980s. The claim was far from the truth—as Mandela was still alive in 2010. However, Broome claimed that the ‘memory’ was shared by “perhaps thousands” of other people.

Other false memory phenomenon examples include memories of the “Berenstain Bears” being spelled “Berenstein”, and the existence of a 1990s movie titled “Shazaam” starring Sinbad as a genie (which I personally do believe I’ve seen a poster of it in a magazine when I was younger!).

Some theorise that the Mandela effect phenomenon might be evidence that we are living in an alternate reality. However, scientists suggest that false memories can be shaped by a mixture of incorrect memories, false news reports and misleading photographs.

The robber emoji could be a victim of this phenomenon.

Could it come from Bitlife?

Another theory is that the robber emoji does actually exist, but it was from a game app called Bitlife (Android, iOS). Seeing as I used to be an avid player of the life-simulation game, I thought it made sense, too.

I remembered that I would see Bitlife emojis being used during the game. For example, if I decided that my character wanted to be a criminal and rob a house, I’d see my character’s emoji turn into a robber emoji similar to the emoji depicted above. But despite me re-playing the app, I wasn’t able to find the emoji.

I instead found my character looking like he normally would if he tried to rob a house—which was a weird thing to do in real life. You should at least disguise yourself if you were going to do some crime.

The other thing I noticed in the game was the Raccoon emoji to depict ‘burglary’. The dark eyes on the raccoon made me realise that it could have been the raccoon that I had remembered, which would explain the false memory.

It’s also important to note that the Bitlife app updates pretty regularly, so the game and graphics I played with a year ago wasn’t the same as the one I was playing today. I thought the lack of robber emoji in the game could have just been because of the updates. That thought made me look through a bunch of old YouTube videos of gameplay to try and spot the emoji.

After looking through many older YouTube videos of gameplay (especially the ones that concentrated on being criminals), I still couldn’t find any trace of the robber emoji. And I couldn’t really go way back, either, because the game was only released in 2018.

I almost gave up until I stumbled upon a Twitter response from Bitlife’s official account after a user theorised that the emoji could have come from the game.

Bitlife could have just been cashing in on the attention, which is why they did not confirm whether or not it was true that they had the robber emoji. Still, it might still have existed before, but it isn’t in the game anymore.

What’s with the other robber emoji depictions?

As far as I believed, I only ever saw the front facing emoji with a mask and a beanie. However, there are several other depictions of what people think the emoji might have looked like.

https://twitter.com/MothLord1/status/1273104248314695680

I don’t think I’ve ever ‘seen’ these emojis, which can mean that people are just messing with other people—or they do genuinely think they’ve seen it. There are also people asking about the ‘hiking’ emoji (which I can vaguely imagine). Apparently, people could have just been remembering the ‘blind person’ emoji.

After hours of trying to find answers, it pains me to say that the robber emoji never existed (in our universe). Searching ‘criminal’ in Emojipedia was also frustrating. How could we have a supervillain emoji but not a no-nonsense robber emoji? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Emojis are like something we use so often right now. But if you want to learn more about how they came to be, and how new ones are added, check out this episode by 99% Invisible.

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Dzamira Dzafri