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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