With the use of emojis sparking debate in a US court, you may well wonder if that smiley or avocado sent over social media could be legally used against you in a trial.
In an era where technology has become a major part of a person’s daily life, it is said the English language is gradually eroding, decimating one vowel at a time in ‘text-speak’ and now, with the use of emojis, reduced to pictures, it is no wonder that digital material such as emojis are becoming valid evidence in a Court of Law.
But with the coining of new cyber-languages, as with learning any new language, there is often a small matter of interpretation involved. Texts messages are often misconstrued to mean something that they’re not. For example, take the phrase “Im gonna kill u.” Spelling and grammatical errors aside, it’s maybe a harmless comment between friends who are winding each other up, or potentially a serious threat. Who knows? Take the same phrase with an additional laughing face at the end – just a joke between friends, right? How about with a picture of a knife, a gun or maybe even a skull face… perhaps a little more sinister now. Surely information like this could not be dismissed as evidence in a Court of Law.
Emojis as Prosecution Evidence
While it seems clear that such evidence should be admissible, however, there is also the question raised by IT Lawyers in the recent Silk Road trial of how text conversations featuring emojis should be presented to the Court; should they be read out, or should they be presented in a visual format?
Reading something aloud can allow the reader to manipulate a message or an emoji that could have been sent so innocently into something that could leave them looking very guilty through inappropriate emphasis. In addition to this, informal written messages have a nasty habit of sounding much worse when read out dead-pan in a formal setting (think of the recurring nightmare many office workers have of hearing their e-mail “banter” with colleagues read back to them in a disciplinary hearing). In the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.
Without seeing someone face to face it is often hard to understand the tone in which someone is speaking; the use of emojis, however, can often give an indication of this.
The law has made allowances for the development of technology. In the past it was difficult to provide proof of location for a suspect who claimed they were somewhere they weren’t. Nowadays most people carry a smartphone which has a GPS tracker; if such information gained from technological devices is now deemed dependable evidence, why shouldn’t emojis?
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