BRAUN: Emojis and the law
Liz Braun
More from Liz Braun
March 3, 2018
March 3, 2018 12:50 PM EST
Emojis.Gaggan Anand/ www.instagram.com / TorSunWP
If someone texted you an emoji of a couple of knives pointing at an eggplant, would you assume they were coming over to help prepare vegetables?
Probably not.
You might be inclined to call the cops, though — especially if you’re male.
Given that the eggplant emoji is an accepted symbol for penis, it’s entirely possible that such a text could be taken as a threat.
Interpreting emojis and understanding their use in digital language is becoming increasingly important, with academics and linguists weighing in on how these little pictograms alter the way we communicate.
Emojis tend to fill in the function served by body language or non-verbal communication in face to face exchanges.
But the emoji is also having its day in court.
Kurt Busch, driver fo the No. 41 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, holds a check mark and a poop emoji as he answers trivia questions about Texas during Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway on February 28, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas.
According to The Emoji Factor: Humanizing the Emerging Law of Digital Speech, from Osgoode adjunct professor Elizabeth Kirley and Deakin associate professor Marilyn McMahon, there is a dark side to emoji use that’s challenging the legal system. Kirley maintains that the legal status of emojis needs to be determined, as more and more cases come to court, how the meaning or intention of emoji use is open to interpretation.
Dr. Kirley explained, “There’s no lexicon or dictionary. Even if the person posting a message and the recipient have a prior shared understanding of the emojis used, that doesn’t mean the police or the judge have the same understanding, if it ends up in court.”
Judges, she points out, are of a certain generation; most of the time they need help understanding something that’s code to the kids using emojis.
Attendees of Mobile World Congress 2018 are seen creating AR Emojis on the new Samsung Galaxy S9 on February 26, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. Mobile World Congress 2018 is the largest exhibition for the mobile industry and runs from February 26 till March 1.
“We found the icons are challenging lawyers, judges and lawmakers around the world, with their use being recognized in a legal context not as a joke or ornament but as a legitimate form of literacy.”
As a society, we may need emoji experts to translate in a court of law.
And small wonder — when both eggplant and peach emoji are sexual references, you need an interpreter.
(Also sexual: a dear little pussycat symbol, a hand gesturing ‘ok’ or a raised fist plus pointy finger. Extrapolate at will.)
To further confuse the issue, emoji use and meaning vary by country and ethnicity. The smiley face seems to have universal meaning; the face with a tongue sticking out does not.
According to SwiftKey, Australians uses twice as many booze-themed emojis as anyone else (and lots of drug and junk food symbols, interestingly,) while Canadians over-use the poop symbol (!) and the French are inclined to use a lot of heart emojis in their communication.
Russians use more romance emojis than anyone else and people who speak Arabic languages use a lot of flower and plant emojis.
A sign with an emoji reads “Don’t take net neutrality away” is posted outside the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. The FCC voted to eliminate net-neutrality protections for the internet.
Malaysians are partial to hand gestures and farm animals.
(Ready to be creeped out? People who know about these things report that ISIS followers use icons that show beheadings and other violence when communicating with other Islamic State supporters. These are stickers rather than true emoji, but still.)
According to Kirley’s research paper, the use of weapon emojis — gun, knife, bomb, etc. — in what seems to be a threatening text is already coming up in legal cases. If you use these pictograms in a way that could be interpreted as stalking, harassing, defaming or threatening, you may wind up in court.
In New Zealand, the man who posted this message:
“You’re going to f—ing get it.” — with an airplane emoji that suggested he was coming after his ex — ended up charged with stalking.
Depending upon how you use certain emoji, you could be seen as an advocate for violence, terrorism or general mayhem. So don’t. There are thousands of the little symbols available for use in digital communication; you can see them all at unicode.org
But you know the rules, people: You don’t step on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit in the wind. You don’t send d— pics to anyone or revenge-post your ex’s naked photos and you don’t mess around with negative emojis.
You can read the research paper by Kirley and McMahon here.
Unicode Consortium
BRAUN: Emojis and the law | Toronto Sun