LOL, haha, hehe, and smiling emoji: Facebook decodes our e-laughs

11 Aug 2015

Is that a lol or a haha? Photo via Peter Bernik/Shutterstock

Do you ‘haha’ or do you ‘hehe’? Or maybe you prefer to express yourself with emoji. And if you’re still laughing with ‘Lol’, you’re probably a bit out of touch, old-timer.

Lol has fallen out of favour as an expression of online laughter.

The acronymous word was the internet community’s way of responding to a laugh-out-loud moment, and while we rarely ROFL anymore and there’s less LMAO-ing, Lol has endured.

Though now, according to data from the world’s biggest social network, it appears this expression is being put out to pasture.

Fun with data

The idea of analysing laughter on its social network came to the Facebook research team following a New Yorker article by Sarah Larson.

Larson’s lighthearted piece took an anecdotal approach to surmise the internet’s laughing habits, but Facebook data scientists Udi Weinsberg, Lada Adamic and Mike Develin wrote in their blog, “Why rely on anecdotes when you have data?”

And so, with help from Moira Burke and the Core Data Science team, they set to work gauging the giggles of de-identified Facebook posts from the last week of May 2015.

The language of online laughter

In the week’s worth of data, the Facebook researchers found that 15pc of people laughed at least once in a post or comment, but patterns in the way they chose to express that laughter were identified in their age, gender and geographic location.

Where users laughed more than once in the week, they typically laughed using the same format – much like in real life. More than half (52pc) of those who laughed used a single type of laugh, while roughly 20pc mixed it up with two different types.

The key finding from this monumental study is that LOL is dying out while haha takes a joyful lead with over half of users opting for this form to communicate their funnybone’s feelings.

Facebook laughter data

E-laughter data from Facebook shows that we don’t LOL so much anymore

Another popular form of e-laughter is the emoji.

Facebook classified a broad range of smiling emoji as indicative of laughter in posts and comments, and they accounted for a little more than one-third of all the laughs they analysed.

In terms of age groups, younger users sway more towards emoji, while LOL attracts an older grouping – another signifier of a dying trend.

Facebook laughter data

In this violin graph, the dashed line represents the median user, within the 25th and the 75th percentiles (the dotted lines)


Who’s laughing now?

Typically, our online laughter registers as titters, with people preferring to keep it brief.

For the most part, a single emoji, haha, hehe or LOL will make the message clear, though often you’ll get an elongated hahaha or hehehe.

Facebook laughter data

When it comes to e-laughs, most users keep it short

Outbursts of maniacal laughter (hahahahahahaha) are much rarer, though not unheard of. While researchers cut their plot at 20 letters, their regular expression parser identified one ‘haha’ that ran to more than 600 letters long.

“We weren’t laughing that day,” the researchers confessed.

Gigglebit is’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech, to help start your day on a lighter note.

Laughing image be Peter Bernik via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic