Picture this: you’re laying on your bed watching TV. You hear your phone ring and it’s your best friend who just sent you a playfully annoying text. This is your best friend, so this is something completely normal. You think for second on a witty comeback trying to one-up your friend, but nothing of textual genius comes to mind. You settle for the generic, “I’m going to kill you! [gun emoji] [steam coming out of the nose emoji].” There is no reply from your friend so you shrug it off. Next day, you’re walking class and the school police detain you and you have no idea what they’re taking about until they cite the source of their allegations to the emoji text message you sent to your friend.
This hypothetical situation we just went through is in part a reality. Emojis can be seen as modern day hieroglyphics, except they’re a little easier to understand. It can very much be seen as a new language and with this new language and with this new language comes unexplored issues that involve threats made with that language. According to Criminal Defense Lawyer’s website, felony convictions of threatening someone can result in over five years in prison and fines of upwards of $10,000. So, threats are taken very seriously. So serious in fact that The Washington Post reported that a 12-year-old girl is facing criminal charges for using certain emojis.
A middle schooler in Fairfax, Virgina had police show up at her door and charge her with, “threatening her school
after police said she posted a message on Instagram in December laden with gun, bomb and knife emojis.” Fairfax County Schools deemed the girl’s threat as non credible, but something could still arise in juvenile court.
In a separate, but similar case, a grand jury in New York declared a police officer emoji followed by a gun emoji, “represented a true threat to police officers.”
“You understand words in a particular way,” Dalia Topelson Ritvo, assistant director of the Cyber Law clinic at Harvard Law School, told the Post. “It’s challenging with symbols and images to unravel that.”
With this new language of the internet still being figured out, I picture more young people having charges brought against them for tiny images sent through their phones.