Beyond Words: The Hidden Risks of Emojis in Trading

In the ever-evolving landscape of financial compliance, you might not expect emojis to be at the forefront of regulatory concern. 

However, with FINRA announcing its intent to crack down on financial firms' use of emojis, a new frontier in trading and communications surveillance has emerged. What may seem like harmless symbols of expression can, in fact, carry significant implications for compliance teams that are already stretched thin.

Consider the 'rocket ship,' 'stock chart,' and 'money bags' icons. While seemingly innocent on the surface, these emojis can telegraph specific market-related beliefs or suggested actions when related to trading financial assets. This raises concerns regarding the ability to monitor the use of these emojis in communications surveillance compliance frameworks.

In this blog, we explore what happens when emojis stop being a playful form of expression and instead serve as a valuable tool for bad actors looking to outsmart the regulators. 

The challenge of capturing emojis in communications 

In 2023, a US District Court judge ruled the use of emojis in trading as objective evidence of financial advice, underscoring the legal consequences associated with their use. For example, the depiction of a phoenix, symbolizing resilience and revival, could imply optimism about a stock's potential for recovery after a period of decline.

However, not all emojis convey their meaning as clearly, posing a challenge for compliance teams tasked with monitoring communications for malpractice. Traditional surveillance systems, reliant on keyword-based monitoring, often struggle to capture emojis, let alone interpret their context, leaving compliance officers at a disadvantage.

These systems are typically text-focused and lack the capability to capture the evolving nuances of modern communication methods, including emojis, slang, and regional language variations. With limited capabilities, compliance teams risk overlooking sophisticated forms of manipulation and evolving techniques employed by wrongdoers.

Examples of what empojis can mean in a trading context:

Rocket Emoji

SteelEye - Beyond Words The Hidden Risks of Emojis in Financial Communications RocketUse: This emoji is often associated with going "to the moon" or experiencing rapid growth. 

Abuse: Traders could use the rocket emoji to signal that a particular stock is about to take off, either as insider trading to tip off a friend or colleague or as an attempt to artificially inflate sentiment around a particular stock. This could lead to a surge in buying activity, even if there's no fundamental reason for the price increase. 


SteelEye-Beyond-Words-The-Hidden-Risks-of-Emojis-in-Financial-Communications-Money-BagMoney Bag Emoji

Use: Typically used to represent money or wealth. 

Abuse: Traders could use the money bag emoji to falsely signal that they are making significant profits from a particular trade or investment. This could lure other investors into following their trades without proper due diligence, potentially leading to market manipulation or pump-and-dump schemes. 


SteelEye-Beyond-Words-The-Hidden-Risks-of-Emojis-in-Financial-Communications-FireFire Emoji

Use: Often used to convey that something is hot, exciting, or trending. 

Abuse: Traders could use the fire emoji to exaggerate the performance of a stock or market, creating a false impression of its attractiveness. This could attract unsuspecting investors who are drawn to the hype without conducting thorough research. 



Chart Decreasing EmojiSteelEye - Beyond Words The Hidden Risks of Emojis in Financial Communications Stock Decreasing

Use: This emoji represents a downward trend in a chart or graph, indicating a decrease in value or performance. 

Abuse: Traders could use the decreasing chart emoji to imply that a stock is going to dip and now would be a good time to sell it.  Additionally, it could also be used to spread negative sentiment about a particular stock or market, even if there's no valid reason for the decline. This could induce panic selling among other investors, driving down prices and potentially causing harm to those who fall victim to the manipulation.


SteelEye - Beyond Words The Hidden Risks of Emojis in Financial Communications PheonixPhoenix Emoji

Use: The phoenix emoji symbolizes rebirth, renewal, or resilience.

Abuse: Traders could use the phoenix emoji to falsely signal that a struggling stock or market is on the verge of a significant turnaround. By spreading optimism through the phoenix emoji, they might encourage other investors to buy into the asset, potentially artificially inflating its price.


The use of these emojis in these contexts could constitute market manipulation if done with the intention of sharing insider information or misleading others and profiting from their actions.

The solution to the safe use of emojis in Trading

The use of emojis in trading represents a nuanced yet significant challenge for compliance teams and regulators alike. To address this increasing challenge, advanced surveillance systems capable of contextual analysis and comprehensive monitoring are urgently needed. Such systems must account for a broad spectrum of words and phrases, including emojis, slang, and linguistic variations to effectively detect misconduct.

However, with challenges come opportunities for innovation and adaptation. By embracing advanced technology and partnering with transformative solutions providers, organizations can proactively mitigate the risks associated with emoji usage and ensure the integrity and transparency of financial markets in an increasingly digital world.

SteelEye - The solution to the safe use of emojis in trading communications

The use of emojis in trading has introduced a nuanced challenge for compliance teams and regulators.

What might appear as harmless symbols can carry significant implications, leading to potential market manipulation and regulatory concerns. By recognizing these risks and adopting advanced surveillance technologies, financial firms can proactively address the complexities posed by emojis. Embracing innovative solutions will not only safeguard the integrity of financial markets but also ensure compliance with ever-evolving regulatory requirements.

How SteelEye can help

SteelEye's communications surveillance solution goes beyond language barriers with its Lexica-packs, enabling the identification of emojis used in trading communications. SteelEye’s purpose-built data platform is the only solution that can natively combine trading, communications, reference, and market data for integrated surveillance. The platform combines over 50 trade data handlers and 85 communication channels for efficient and effective supervision.

SteelEye's newest addition to its library of solutions is the Compliance CoPilot, which uses the capabilities of Large Language Models (LLMs) to optimize the communications surveillance workflow while maintaining human oversight. Compliance CoPilot revolutionizes the detection of market abuse in communications surveillance, even in cases involving the subtle nuances of emoji use.

Through its advanced AI capabilities, SteelEye's CoPilot effectively reduces false positives, ensuring that compliance analysts can swiftly discern between legitimate and suspicious communications. Compliance CoPilot's AI-driven surveillance lexicon monitors an extensive range of search terms, enabling the detection of market abuse indicators, while filtering out false positives with precision.

By partnering with SteelEye, financial institutions can enhance their surveillance capabilities and mitigate the hidden risks associated with emojis and other forms of communication. Through advanced technology, customizable solutions, and comprehensive support, SteelEye empowers organizations to navigate the complex regulatory landscape with confidence and transparency.



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