Computers & the law

United States courts are trying to figure out how seriously to take emojis in a criminal sense. We all use emojis as shorthand in texts and emails; teenagers use them as almost a second language. The smiley face, heart, and many others have become a popular way of communicating.

Now a 12-year old Virginia girl is facing criminal charges for a string of emojis she used in an Instagram message: she posted, meet me in the library Tuesday, followed by a gun, a knife and a bomb emoji. She is charged with threatening her school and computer harassment and is awaiting trial in a juvenile court.

Just last year, another teen was charged with making a terrorist threat after using threatening emojis in a Facebook post. He used the emojis of a police officer’s head, followed by three gun emojis. A grand jury decided not to indict the teen on the charge.

His lawyer says that when kids use emojis in this manner, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. He maintains that something is lost in translation. However, since this is how kids communicate, who’s to say that it should not be taken seriously? After all, it may be the modern-day version of a diary.

The mother of the 12-year old girl says that her message was posted in response to being bullied at school. That sounds pretty serious, as we’ve come to learn that many of the school shootings have involved teens who feel they had been bullied.

A Fairfax County, Virginia school, where the girl attends middle school, says the threat was deemed “not credible”. It remains to be seen whether or not her case will go to trial.

What do you think? Should emojis be considered a part of speech, and as such, taken seriously when used in a threatening way?

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.


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