Conveying that you find something humorous in real life can be challenging enough. (“Is a smile enough here, or do I need to laugh?” or “Wait, they look hurt. Did I actually laugh, or just laugh in my head?”) But on the Internet, laughing can be serious business. Is that “LOL” coming across as sarcastic? Does “heh” mean a joke fell flat? And does a crying emoji indicate more laughter than an emoji sticking its tongue out?
As it turns out, you probably don’t need to give it that much thought. Facebook has more raw data on Internet laughing than probably anyone, and as part of a new study on how people laugh online, the social network’s data researchers find that the way people laugh online actually has more to do with region and age than anything else.
In regard to region, Facebook suggests that the traditional red state/blue state divide could potentially be conveyed as a “haha” versus “emoji” divide instead:
The maps broadly show that haha and hehe are more popular on the west coast, emoji are the weapon of choice in the midwest, and southern states are fond of lol. Presidential campaigns, take note: the battleground states of Ohio and Virginia are haha states, while the candidates’ emoji games will surely be key in determining who emerges victorious in Florida.
That said, universally, Facebook found that “haha” accounts for 51.4% of all social network laughs, followed by 33.7% of laughs conveyed in emoji. 13.1% of Facebookers “hehe” and those who type “LOL,” surprisingly, account for just 1.9% of all laughs. Age also contributes to what type of Internet laugh you favor: emoji laughs skew towards a younger millennial demographic; meanwhile “haha,” “hehe,” and “lol” tend to be favored by respectively older groups of users.
And then there’s old fogeys like me, who remember the halcyon days of the proto-net, when everyone indicated laughs with HTML tags. Someday, all those moments will be lost, in time, like tears streaking down an emoji face.