With World Cup fever in full swing, people have finally found a use for the flags tucked in the far corners of emoji keyboards. But patriotic tweeters can only fit at most 70 little flag icons in a 140-character tweet. What gives? Turns out, each flag emoji counts as two characters—and there's a clever reason why, as Tom Scott explains.
A nation's flag design sometimes changes, and you wouldn't want to tweet or text last year's colors. So the folks who developed emoji unicode made the flags future-proof: when you punch in a flag, what your device actually sees is a two-letter country code (like "FR" for France). It's up to your device to recognize that code and replace it with the appropriate (and up to date) flag.
So it's your device's responsibility to keep up with the geopolitics that go into flag design; emoji just tells your smartphone which country you're referring to. Saving you the embarrassment of tweeting a flag that's so last regime. [Tom Scott]