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Lost In Translation: The Courtroom Confusion Caused By Emoji Communication


If you were sitting on a jury and saw a series of text messages between defendants which read, "Did you rob the bank?" - followed by a response that read, "Yes," you would probably feel pretty confident about convicting them of the crime.

But what if the text used emoji instead of words? Is a message which includes the money emoji, bank emoji, car emoji, and a question mark the same thing as actually asking someone in plain English if they robbed the bank? Similarly, would a thumbs-up response be the same as a "Yes" response?

As the use of emoji in written communication continues to grow, questions similar to these are becoming increasingly common in courtrooms across America. Though the answers may seem obvious and straightforward at first, a closer look reveals that emoji law may not be so simple.

The first, and perhaps most important, thing to note about emoji-based communication is that it is much more open to interpretation than traditional English-language communication. In our example above, the emoji message could certainly be interpreted as asking if the individual robbed a bank. After all, the message contains all of the key elements of a bank robbery - cash, a bank, and a getaway car.

Equally though, the emoji message could be interpreted in a more innocent way. The "money emoji, bank emoji, car emoji, question mark" message could simply mean "Did you deposit the money at the bank?" or "Could you please pick up some money from the bank?" If you are a member of the jury, how are you to know which interpretation was intended?

One other thing to note about the use of emoji is that they can look a little different from one mobile device to the next. An emoji that looks like a bank on one phone may look like a nondescript office building on another. This would mean that the message in our example had nothing to do with a bank at all. Put simply, emoji communication has a habit of introducing a lot of doubt and confusion into a case.

Hate it or love it, however, emoji communication is here to stay. Defending a case that contains this kind of complicated or nuanced communication requires a team of experienced attorneys - such as those found here at Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake. To learn more about how we can help you with your case, simply give us a call at (410) 927-5137 to set up an initial consultation.