I counted 12. Yes, out of many dozens of smiley face emoji I can figure out about a dozen. That’s where it should end. Why? Emojis are, at best, indirect and almost non-specific communications. Hell, emojis cause legal problems and end up in court.
Text Me, Baby
You know what they say, right? ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ That kinda sort mostly applies to emojis, too, because what you say in emoji can be binding in a court of law.
Mike Cherney had an example in WSJ:
Lawyers gathered at the Atlanta office of a big law firm were debating a head-scratching legal question. What does the emoji known as the “unamused face” actually mean?
What does it mean. What do most of those smiley face emoji icons mean? I can handle the obvious emoji but don’t really understand why we need to use a picture of a soccer ball or tree or building in the first place.
Emojis—tiny pictures of facial expressions or objects used in text messages, emails and on social media—are no longer a laughing matter for the legal profession.
It’s the facial expression emoji that cause all the problems because nobody can agree what they mean. For example, is a smiley face emoji happy? Or, relieved? Or, sarcastic?
Increasingly, they are bones of contention in lawsuits ranging from business disputes to harassment to defamation.
It’s bad news if lawyers and judges can’t figure out what they are or where they should be used or what they mean.
Yet, smartphone users love to collect emoji and use emoji even if they don’t know what the faces mean, and can’t be for certain that who they send it to understands the intended or implied meaning vs. what it might mean to a judge.
Judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded in 2014 that the emoticon “is used to represent a face with its tongue sticking out to denote a joke or sarcasm.”
If we could limit all those facial expressions to an even dozen, and then get a legal definition for each one, using emoji would be much easier and less of a sticky legal situation.
Think before you text or email an emoji because it might land you in court.
In 2017, a couple in Israel was charged thousands of dollars in fees after a court ruled that their use of emoji to a landlord signaled an intent to rent his apartment. After sending an enthusiastic text confirming that they wanted the apartment, which contained a string of emoji including a champagne bottle, a squirrel, and a comet, they stopped responding to the landlord’s texts and went on to rent a different apartment. The court declared that the couple acted in bad faith, ruling that the “icons conveyed great optimism” that “naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the Defendants’ desire to rent his apartment,”
My solution is the right one. Let’s put a limit of 12 on the facial expression ‘smiley face‘ emoji. Then, let’s get legal definitions for each one so we know exactly when and where usage could cause us problems that might end up in court.
Clapping hands emoji? Not a problem. Thumbs up or thumbs down emoji? Got it. I’m even OK with the poop emoji and and the frack finger emoji. It’s those damned facial expressions that nobody agrees with that need to be limited to an even dozen.