Microsoft Teams starts testing custom emoji support

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Microsoft has started internally testing a new custom emoji feature for its Microsoft Teams communications platform. Multiple sources tell The Verge that Microsoft employees learned about the surprise new capability after animated emoji of Pepe the Frog — a meme with a troubled past — started appearing in reactions and messages on early internal versions of Microsoft Teams.

The Pepe the Frog emotes, which are now widely used in Discord servers and on Amazon’s Twitch streaming platform as lighthearted responses, appeared alongside other custom emoji that don’t ship in Microsoft Teams right now. We’re told Microsoft is testing the custom emoji feature in early so-called “dogfood” versions of Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams currently supports GIFs through the Giphy service, but these are separate from the emoji panel that appears within video calls and chat messages on the service. If Microsoft decides to roll this custom emoji feature out to all Teams users, it doesn’t mean that Pepe the Frog memes will ship by default, just the ability to add custom emoji. It will be up to IT admins to approve and allow new custom emoji — much like how Discord and Slack admins manage this.

Microsoft Teams currently only supports official Unicode emoji.
Screenshot by Tom Warren / The Verge

The addition of Pepe the Frog to internal versions of Microsoft Teams surprised some employees because of the fraught history of this particular meme. While Pepe the Frog is widely used innocently these days, the cartoon frog was also co-opted by white supremacists years ago. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added Pepe the Frog to its hate symbol database in 2016, but the advocacy group has since teamed with Pepe creator Matt Furie to back a “#SavePepe campaign to reclaim the symbol from those who use it with hateful intentions.”

Pepe is now used less commonly as a hate symbol than a reaction meme in Twitch chats. “Because so many Pepe the Frog memes are not bigoted in nature, it is important to examine use of the meme only in context,” says the ADL. “The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist.” The life, death, and rebirth of Pepe was explored in the documentary Feels Good Man.

Pepe the Frog was a symbol of resistance for Hong Kong protestors in 2019.

Microsoft has not yet officially announced custom emoji for Microsoft Teams, and the feature is still in very early testing. Microsoft did acknowledge the highly requested feature had been added to a backlog of new additions seven months ago. Given custom emoji has existed for years in rival platforms like Slack and Discord, it’s more than likely to reach all Microsoft Teams users at some point this year.

We reached out to Microsoft for comment, but the company did not respond in time for publication.