Emojis and Emoticons Become a Legal Matter

In the legal profession, emojis and emoticons have become an urgent matter, even to the point that serious attempts are being made to determine what they mean and what should be done with them.
An emoji is a graphic symbol, often a “happy” face, which can be used to decorate a page of text. An emoticon is a visual representation that is usually comprised of numbers, letters or punctuation marks. Both are widely used in electronic messaging. Though seemingly harmless, they create a problem when the symbols accompany text in legal communications. The issue is whether emojis and emoticons somehow supplement or alter the meaning of the written information, clouding communications that are by their nature adversarial.
In one sexual harassment case, an emoji with a kiss mark on its face may have been an attempt to further humiliate the victim. In a similar case, an emoji seemed to represent merely another advance by the person accused of harassment. An Internet messaging case in Michigan involved the use of a visual representation that appeared to defame a local official, although a state court later ruled that the artwork was in fact insignificant. In still another incident, a judge ruled that artwork appearing on written communications had to be shown to a jury.
According to available statistics, emojis and emoticons appeared in 33 U.S. court cases last year. This indicates a rapid increase in their use in recent years, with 25 such appearances reported in 2016 and only 14 in 2015. More about this matter is available at www.reddit.com/r/law.
Those in the legal profession have begun to tackle this matter through meetings, seminars and the dissemination of official documents. Some of these symbols are more obvious than others, but it may still take a legal mind to decipher what each one of them means.