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Can Using an Emoji Land You in Jail?

If you are one of the 68 percent of Americans who owns a smartphone, you are probably familiar with emojis – the little yellow cartoonish smiley faces, hearts, and other images used to quickly convey thoughts and messages via text and over social media. Emojis are especially popular among young people.

For one middle school girl, however, using an emoji has landed her in trouble with the law. According to a report from the Washington Post, the 12-year-old Virginia girl posted a message on the social media site, Instagram, and included an emoji of a gun, knife, and bomb. The message attracted the attention of school administrators, who contacted the police. The girl has been charged with computer harassment and threatening the school. The girl’s mother said her daughter has never been in trouble and posted the message in response to a bullying incident.

Internet Slang and Evolving Case Law

This is not the first time a criminal court has had to interpret whether an emoji constitutes a real threat – and it likely will not be the last. In New York City, a grand jury recently had to decide whether a gun emoji pointing to a police officer emoji rose to the level of an actionable threat to harm a police officer. The grand jury ultimately decided not to indict. Another court was asked to interpret the meaning behind an emoji sticking its tongue out.

Linguists say courts are faced with an extremely difficult task: deciding what the smartphone user actually intended when he or she used the image. “You understand words in a particular way,” said one law professor. “It’s challenging with symbols and images to unravel that.”

Because the law surrounding smartphones, texts, and computers is still evolving, it is important to be extremely cautious when sending emails or posting messages on the internet, including social media sites. It is also important for parents to speak to their children about using social media and the internet in a safe, responsible way.

Indianapolis Criminal Defense Law Firm

If you have been charged with internet harassment or another type of computer-related crime, you need an experienced lawyer on your side as soon as possible. The law in this area is unsettled and constantly changing. It is important to act quickly in your defense. Call Razumich Law, P.C. today at (317) 983-5333 for a free consultation.

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