Is “Emoji Law” Actually a Thing?The emoticon was born on September 19, 1982 when Professor Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon suggested using the keyboard symbols 🙂 and 🙁 to express emotions online. This caught on, spread around the country, and eventually we were all using emoticons.

However, beyond simple emojis like that, interpretations of other emojis can be rather subjective. In an interview with The Verge, Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman points out, “Emoji usually have dialects. They draw meaning from their context.” Your culture, your personality, even your phone can determine how you interpret an emoji.

Here’s a good example of how even two phones can interpret emojis differently, from Goldman: “For example, for a while, Google users thought the ‘grinning face with smiling eyes’ emoji meant ‘blissfully happy,’ while Apple users thought it meant ‘ready to fight.’ Thus, a Google user sending that emoji symbol to an Apple recipient might unintentionally prompt violence, even though both the Apple and Google users made reasonable interpretations of the symbol.”

No matter how much or how little you may know about criminal defense laws, know this: intention is a critical part of any case. Now, because of the proliferation of these little symbols, the courts are hearing cases that could hinge upon what someone may have intended, based on the emojis they use.

Why emojis are important to attorneys, and to our cases

Misunderstandings are common during everyday texting, and typically easy enough to clear up. However, in court, misunderstandings can cost thousands of dollars and even your freedom. As emojis become a more and more frequent style of communication, they’re beginning to crop up in court documents – and can be open to the court’s interpretation.

For example:

  • In 2016, a 12-year-old girl was charged with threatening her school after posting an Instagram message with gun, bomb, and knife emojis.
  • In 2017, an Israeli couple was found guilty of acting in bad faith after misleading a landlord into believing they were going to sign a lease after sending a text with a champagne bottle, a squirrel, and a comet – emojis conveying “great optimism.”
  • And most recently, California prosecutors used emojis as part of a prostitution sting, citing Instagram DMs a man sent to a “woman reading, “Teamwork make the dream work” with high heels and money bag emoji – which they believe implied a working relationship.

Goldman notes that, in the past, most courts haven’t actually used emoji evidence in their final rulings. In fact, many judges omit them altogether. However, he believes that they should be taken into account.

“Courts have been interpreting nonverbal/non-textual communications for centuries. Indeed, interpreting communications between people is one of the strengths of our judicial system. In that respect, emojis are just another type of nonverbal/non-textual communications for courts to interpret.”

Emoji use is still a developing area of law, so it’s best to use common sense when sending texts and messages.

You can look to the attorneys at the Carey Law Office for experienced and tenacious representation when you need it the most. We have offices in Bowie and Crofton, and are proud to serve clients who reside in Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and the neighboring areas. Please call 301-464-2500 or fill out the contact form to arrange a free consultation.