Emoji Jurisprudence

Emoji Jurisprudence

With innovations in technology that allow for less in-person contact, and more through the use of short-hand communication of technological devices, it is inevitable that the language of these contacts would become the subject of the courts in a variety of legal contexts.

Emoji, or their predecessors emoticons, are used in a variety of electronic messages, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. What these tiny symbols actually mean is left up to many interpretations. When first created back in the 1980’s, it was believed that emoticons would help to give tone to electronic communication. As emoticons developed into emoji, the depth of what each of these symbols “means”, especially if used in conjunction with other symbols and phrases, has only made electronic messages more complex. In an attempt to give meaning to the various emoji, the Emoji Sentiment Ranking was developed. http://kt.ijs.si/data/Emoji_sentiment_ranking/

Recently, courts have been tasked with interpreting emoticons and emoji in messages to determine the sender’s intent. For example, a U.S. District Court ruled that adding emoticons to otherwise threatening messages “does not materially alter the meaning of the text message.”

In the context of family law, as with any litigation, one should always be cautious of what is put in writing. Messages to another party, during the course of a child custody dispute or divorce, are frequently used as exhibits and foundation for motions and court papers. It would seem that it would also be prudent to use caution when attempting to qualify one’s language in these messages through the use of emoticons or emoji.


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About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus21villenvtllj159.htm. After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County. Melissa is the supervising attorney of the firm’s Appellate Unit. The Appellate Unit handles all aspects of the appellate process for family law cases as well as advanced research within the firm. Melissa and her husband, Paul, reside in Montgomery County with their two cats Wembley and Gobo. In her spare time, she enjoys audiobooks, barbeques, and watching action movies.