Emoji’s In Court

Interesting update from the Hustle newsletter

All rise: Emoji have entered the court

If we wrote, “?????,” would you know what it meant?

According to the US court system — maybe. Emoji are showing up as evidence in court cases more frequently than ever before, per The Verge.

Law professor Eric Goldman, who’s been tracking references to “emoji” and “emoticon” in US court opinions since 2004, says mentions skyrocketed in 2018.

Where things get complicated:

  • Emoji are subjective and leave space for multiple interpretations.
  • Depending on what device or platform you’re using, they can look very different.

That makes it harder for emoji to serve as indisputable evidence, the way written communication might, but they can still provide helpful context in court cases.

For example:

In a Bay Area case that followed a prostitution sting, prosecutors argued that a man was guilty of pimping charges. Among the evidence: Instagram DMs to a woman reading, “Teamwork make the dream work” alongside high heels and money bag emoji.

The prosecutors said the message proved a working relationship between the two individuals. Defendants said it could simply be flirtatious.

Since emoji specialists don’t exist (*adds to list of dream jobs*), an expert in sex trafficking was called to testify in the case. His take: The high heels and money bags supported the charges.

All we know is that, after looking through those court records, the winky face better lawyer up.


Here are a few recent Goldman Emoji Blog posts

What Does the “Water” Emoji Mean? Perhaps Not What You Think–US v Swanagan

2H 2022 Quick Links, Part 5 (Censorship & More)

If the Word “Emoji” is a Protectable Trademark, What Happens Next?–Emoji GmbH v. Schedule A Defendants