Who uses ?
Since its inclusion in Unicode 8.0 in 2015, the upside-down face emoji has filled a gap in emoji users’ symbolic inventory. It can be difficult to convey tones like sarcasm or silliness in written text, since vocal cues are not present. Thankfully, people have been coping with this issue since the early days of the internet with tone markers including /s and jk to indicate that a given string of text is not to be taken seriously.
Now with emoji, people can forgo letter-based solutions altogether. The upside-down face emoji can easily stand in place of /s, jk, and other markers. It’s meant to make the text it’s paired with be interpreted as sarcasm, passive aggression, or even for it to just not be taken at face value. It’s the visual opposite of the ordinary smiley emoji, which might lend to the interpretation that the meaning of the text is the opposite of what it seems.
Aside from sarcasm and passive aggression, there’s another meaning still of this incredibly productive emoji. In the era of emoji, the upside-down face emoji does what text alone couldn’t. This is an emoji that people turn to when nothing is going their way but they’re still “smiling through the pain.” This makes sense, since the emoji itself is literally smiling. In some contexts, there’s almost a palpable undercurrent of ugh or “why me?” associated with it. This emoji is for when someone is frustrated with their circumstances, but has to muscle through it anyway. In some cases, it’s used even for an emotion that can only be described as “this is fine,” à la a certain oft-referenced comic of a dog sitting in a burning room with a smile on his face.
Apart from being used to air frustration or to allow a hidden meaning to shine through, this emoji has some additional meanings. One of these is to show goofiness or silliness. In other cases, it could even be used flirtatiously when paired with other emoji, such as a blushing face of some kind. This versatile emoji communicates different things to different people.
Beyond these usages, the upside-down face emoji sometimes appears in contexts where the meaning is almost impossible to describe without the surrounding context. Yet, somehow, it works perfectly.