If someone posts a tweet that reads “I’ll get you,” and includes an emoji image of a weapon, does that make it a criminal threat of violence?
“You know a happy face is better than a gun. The bottom line is be careful what you say. Because making terrorist threats is a serious crime,” says Sandra Guerra Thomson, Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.
Increasingly, legally, courts are finding emoji are a form of communication that carries the same liabilities as other types. “A picture is worth a thousand words. We can be very clear, in fact, sometimes more clear, with the use of an emoji than with words,” Thompson adds. “It really turns on the intent of the person making the statement. It really is no different than if they were using words.”
In New Zealand recently, a judge considered a case in which the defendant had sent an ex-partner the message, “You’re going to get it,” with an emoji of a plane. He was sentenced on a stalking charge. In France last year, a court found that a threat with a gun emoji was elevated to a violent threat. It produced a six month sentence and a one-thousand Euro fine.