• Karolis Rimkus

Any Emoji You Send Can Be Used Against You in Court

Updated: May 26, 2020

An Israeli couple looking for a place to rent sent a message to a property owner with these emoji: 💃🏻👯‍✌️☄️🐿️🍾.

The owner removed the listing, interpreting it as a deal. Meanwhile, the couple disappeared. The owner then sued them for breach of contract. The court ruled that these emoji showed positive emotion and tenants’ willingness to rent and imposed a four-digit fine.

Cases like these are on the rise. There have been over 60 cases involving emoji in the US courts last year alone. Five years ago, there were less than 10.

As in many life situations where technology advances faster than infrastructure and the legal system (eg electric scooters, autonomous cars, etc.), the biggest problem is the lack of regulation and attempts to adapt existing rules to innovation. And with emoji, there are also trends and cultural contexts.

Try sending these emoji to someone you know 🍆💦. I guarantee that you will have a good time reading the answer and explaining what just happened.

Everyone understands emoji their way

What may mean an eggplant one day may be obscene the next day. It doesn’t help that each emoji looks different on different devices either. For example, the same smiling emoji, according to surveys, seems less joyful to some than others. On a positivity scale of -5 to 5, people rated a smiling emoji 4 on Android devices and -1 on Apple.

This way, you can send a happy emoji from Huawei, and the recipient with an iPhone will probably see it negatively. It’s a minor misunderstanding while among your friends, but the same thing in public can have serious consequences or at least leave you misunderstood.

The courts interpret emoji as well

Looking at the global court trends, emoji are already recognized as part of the language that can offend, threaten, incite violence or hate crime. For example, French courts use the term “threatening to kill with images” - says lawyer Daugaile Syrusaite.

Among other evidence for a man accused of being a pimp in court was a message sent to a woman with high heels and money bag emoji. The court-recognized emoji interpretation of “wear high heels and make me some money” was accepted as evidence that the man profited from another person’s prostitution.

In Lithuania, the name, life, health, integrity, honour, dignity, privacy and reputation of a person are protected. Today, all of these values can likely be violated by using emoji alone and have legal consequences - says D. Syrusaite.

How to use emoji in your communication

Studies show that 6 out of 10 people use up to five different emoji. Therefore, you should not overestimate statistical human emoji literacy, especially when encrypting specific messages. For example, you are driving down the street, eyeing this advertisement, looking at it for 0.5 seconds.

The skull means dead. The poop emoji - poo. And L remains L. Thus, the ad is for the movie Deadpool. However, the skull can mean both dead and skull. The poop emoji can stand for shit, turd and other smelly words. To conclude - you should avoid emoji as a puzzle in your communication.

Emoji also symbolize a lighter form of communication. One that’s more relaxed and less formal. So when a former US presidential candidate, H. Clinton, asked students on Twitter to say what they think about a student loan problem using 3 emoji, people were not happy. The candidate soon received plenty of criticism for her laid-back approach to such a serious problem.

On the other hand, Taco Bell ad campaign in which they asked Unicode, the official new emoji publisher, to create a taco emoji, worked beautifully. With the help of their followers, they succeeded in persuading Unicode and from now on you can use the taco emoji in your communication.

Emoji and social networks

It’s no secret that emoji are mostly used in chats and social media posts. Facebook has long been able to endorse a post beyond just Like and has recently been joined by LinkedIn. You can react by clapping or being curious on the posts of your colleagues or friend workplace changes.

When dealing with important topics and situations it’s better to rely on letters for now. Just so your buyers or the judge don’t have to decrypt your emoji puzzle.

This article first appeared in Delfi.lt M360.