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Can Emojis Be Used To Send You To Prison.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you may have heard Robert Mueller’s investigation has not found any evidence of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia. 

But why does any of this matter? In many trials during Mueller’s investigation, e-mails were used as evidence, particularly in regards to Paul Manafort.  As technology changes, the courts have to change as well, we are not living in an emoji era, most messages we send usually end in emojis to show our emotion or reaction. 

So it is no surprise courts have seen an exponential rise in emoji and emoticon references in US court opinions, with over 30 percent of all cases appearing in 2018, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who has been tracking all of the references to “emoji” and “emoticon” that show up in US court opinions. 

Take for example this case from the Bay Area,  a man arrested during a prostitution sting sent Instagram DM’s  to a woman. One read: “Teamwork make the dream work” with high heels and money bag emoji placed at the end.

What does this mean to you? The prosecution  argued that the message implied a working relationship between the two of them. The defendant said it could mean he was trying to strike up a romantic relationship. Who was right?

Despite the rise of emojis, they are still immaterial in many cases with judges choosing to omit emojis with the belief they do not affect a case. 

“They show up as evidence, the courts have to acknowledge their existence, but often they’re immaterial,” Goldman says. “That’s why many judges decide to say ‘emoji omitted’ because they don’t think it’s relevant to the case at all.” But emoji are a critical part of communication, and in cases where transcripts of online communication are being read to the jury, they need to be characterized as well instead of being skipped over. “You could imagine if you got a winky face following the text sentence, you’re going to read that sentence very differently than without the winky face,” he says.

This new debate is similar to the debates over slang words, drugs such a cocaine, heroin and marijuana constantly have evolving slang words amongst dealers and their clientele. This is to give either party plausible deniability if their conversation were to be recorded. However, these slang words are used as evidence in courts. The problem with emojis is their meaning is all left to the interpretation of the reader, someone could receive a message with an eggplant and only see an eggplant, whereas someone else can seen an eggplant and think of sexual activity. 

Whether we will see major court cases in the future that will be settled based on emojis is unknown, but I think we should all be careful with how we use emojis nevertheless.