Emojis are little icons that can be used on social media and in text messages and emails. They first began as smiley faces but have expanded to include animals, food and drinks, famous places and many others.

Most of us have probably used or received an emoji before. They are typically used in a fun, light-hearted way. Although seemingly innocent, in some contexts an emoji may be viewed as a threat, amounting to assault. Some senders have even been sent to gaol because of it.

In New Zealand a man wrote to his ex-partner “you’re going to f*****g get it”. Alongside it he added an emoji of an aeroplane.

The judge concluded that the combination of the message and the emoji implied that the defendant was going after his partner. He was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for stalking.

Last year a French court convicted a man of threatening his ex-girlfriend through a text message. The court held that the use of a gun emoji in the message was sufficient to amount to a “death threat in the form of an image”.

In some cases, a defendant has been convicted after sending just emojis to a victim. In South Carolina, two defendants were found guilty after sending a message comprised of three emojis to a victim they had previously attacked. The message consisted of a fist, a pointing finger and an ambulance. The message did not include any actual words. (The Conversation)

We are yet to see someone imprisoned for sending an emoji here in Australia. But these cases show how seriously international courts are treating the issue. With more Australians using smart phones and social media, this may emerge as a key legal issue, particularly for millennials.

When you are sending a text message to someone, whether it includes emojis or not, it is important to consider how the message may be interpreted.

Image: GetEmoji

James Janke

James Janke

Criminal Lawyer