The Legal World of Emojis

By Emma Betz, Staff Writer

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Adaptability is a critical component of life and has been especially crucial the past two years. Societies have had to adapt to wearing masks, social distancing, and even learning virtually. For lawyers, rapid adaptation comes as no surprise.

Attorney Thomas Kline, a renowned scholar, and Duquesne Law alumn, has taken on the challenge of adapting to the use of Emojis in the legal profession. Kline presented at Duquesne University on October 6, 2021. Throughout his presentation, Kline stressed the importance of being able to learn from the world, which includes understanding how emojis can be used as evidence in the courtroom. 

Emojis are “picture characters” that represent emotions, feelings, or activities.[1] To the computer, emojis are just characters, but to people, emojis signify a wide range of emotions, including, happiness, love, and even anger.[2] Because emojis add expression to simple text, they can be used to help decipher intent in both civil and criminal disputes. 

For years, lawyers have argued the importance of including emojis as critical pieces of information.[3] How chats and their symbols should be presented in court, and how jurors are instructed to interpret such terms, has become a subplot in cases.[4] Whether the messages be read orally or shown to the jury, it’s important that the jurors take note not only of the words but also the symbols.[5] What emojis signify is a question for the jury, but emojis themselves are not to be omitted as they might play a role in helping the jury render a verdict.[6] For this reason, amongst others, it’s important that both people and lawyers familiarize themselves with emojis and how they are used in the virtual world. Emojis just might help or hurt future legal cases.

Emoji interpretation is based on the versions of a specific emoji seen by the parties – what the sender sees when sending an emoji and what the recipients see.[7] Because emojis evolve over time, what version of the emoji being discussed is critical to its admissibility.[8] Accurate interpretations of the emojis are best made through the eyes of the factfinders.[9] In criminal law, what a sender believed the emoji to mean could discredit its admissibility as intent because what the sender interpreted an emoji to mean could vary greatly from the way the recipient interpreted the emoji.[10]

Interpreting new forms of communication creates challenges and misunderstandings. However, these misunderstandings can be improved through a combination of user education, industry initiatives, and legal responses.[11]Attorneys must do their part in interpreting new technological advances by becoming familiar with their usage, meaning, and how they are used between individuals.

As Attorney Kline stressed, adaptability is a critical part of understanding the law. Being able to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances and becoming acquainted with new forms of communication is an important way to understand the depth of new communications in our society. 


[2] Id.


[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.


[8] Id. at 1263.

[9] Id. at 1263.

[10] Id. at 1264.

[11] Id. at 1270. 

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