Emojis may have become a part of the way we now communicate love, laughter and frustration with each other on a day-to-day basis, but a stranger than fiction new case has proven they can also have a much more serious implication.
A Virginian middle school student is facing criminal charges for her use of certain emojis in an Instagram post, which read in part:
meet me in the library Tuesday
? ? ?’
Posted under a pseudonym, the message alerted the attention of authorities in December, who began interviewing students and issued an emergency request to obtain the IP address of the user, leading to the arrest of the 12 year-old student.
The girl at the center of the case is now facing criminal charges for threatening her school and computer harassment and is awaiting trial in juvenile court.
Shockingly, this is not the first time a person’s choice of emojis has resulted in criminal charges. A 17 year-old Brooklyn man was accused with threatening police on Facebook in January last year when he posted a status update that included the following symbols: ? ?.
In another case before the US Supreme Court last year, Pennsylvania man Anthony Elonis argued his conviction for threatening his estranged wife with violent rap lyrics about killing her posted on Facebook, should be overturned due to the use of an emoticon of a face with its tongue sticking out, which Elonis said proved the posts were in jest. Elonis’s argument was ultimately successful, resulting in the dismissal of his conviction, in a ruling that made it harder to prosecute people for threats made online.
Maryland attorney focusing on online issues, Bradley S. Shear says cases like these are likely to continue to become more prevalent.
“These cases are only increasing,” Shear told The Washington Post.
“The more people are using their cell phones and posting on the internet, the more emoji will creep up as evidence in cases.”
So is it really possible to threaten someone via an emoji? While the 12 year-old girl awaiting trial for her Instagram post will be forced to explain the intention behind the use of the gun and bomb emojis in her message, the court will ultimately have to consider many more layers of evidence beyond the symbols in her post.
Regardless, convicting someone for use of certain emojis is a complex issue, especially given the highly simplistic nature of the symbols contained within our keypads. After all, a crying face can mean sadness, or rage or happiness. And who hasn’t sent someone a wink face in jest only for them to interpret it as sarcasm, or flirtation, even? Then there’s the issue of clumsy fingers, which can result in a myriad of embarrassing outcomes (I recently sent an employee an in love face at the end of a formal communication when I meant to insert a smiley face. Thankfully, they were able to see the humor in the situation. Others though, might not.)
Ultimately, we need to start becoming more conscious of what we communicate digitally, even if it’s just a harmless emoji, because it’s no longer what you say that can be used against you in a court of law, but what you type, too. And unlike spoken communication, what you put on the internet is forever. 😛
Oops, sorry, that was supposed to be a serious face.
Comment: Do you think it’s possible to threaten someone via an emoji? What’s the most embarrassing situation an emoji has ever created for you?