​Is it time to learn to ‘speak’ emoji?

An article in last week’s Times (22 February 2019 “Lawyers call for judges to learn emojis”) suggested that the judiciary need to learn to interpret emojis in order to analyse the messages that those involved in a court case may have sent and which therefore could be used in evidence.

The article notes that the criminal underworld is increasingly using emojis to communicate and they are therefore becoming more prevalent and important to English law court cases.  As with language and linguistics in general, the use of emojis may carry a rather different meaning to the harmless version the non-initiated might think.  Emojis can represent many different things, even to different groups of people – some would go as far as to say emojis have “dialects” - and a leading QC is calling for emoji expert evidence to be used in trials where the communication between parties is key.  A judge, for example, may miss a particular nuance which could lead to a misdirection or an erroneous outcome.

A recent case in the US took the use of emojis of a bag of money and high heels to denote that the accused did indeed have a working relationship with the woman who received the message and this led to his prosecution for sex trafficking.

Emojis can also have an impact on contract law cases.  In 2017 a couple in Israel were ordered to pay fees to a landlord, after sending him a message expressing their intent to rent from him. The message included a champagne bottle and other emojis.  They later began to ignore the landlord and went on to rent an apartment from someone else. The original landlord successfully argued that the use of a champagne bottle gave the landlord enough of a reason to rely on the fact they had entered into a rental agreement with him and so they were found to have acted in bad faith.

Emojis have been used by the judiciary in the English courts back in 2016.  In that instance, Mr Justice Peter Jackson included emojis in a family court ruling to assist the two children in their understanding of his findings.

Whilst delivering judgments by emoji is unlikely to become the norm any time soon, it is another example of how the law - and those who interpret it – needs to move with the times and be sufficiently cognisant to understand social media vernacular and the way it is used.

Posted on 6 March, 2019 by Ortolan

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