In the unlikely event that you ever needed more evidence that we’re in the digital information age, it turns out the emoji’s the little pictures (or emoticons, the little symbols) we use in digital / online communication to express emotion are being used more and more frequently as evidence to support arguments in court.

A recent US case highlighted the use of emoji evidence in court, although it turns out that it has already been happening for a while now. In fact, a study by a law professor from Santa Clara University, Eric Goldman, in which he tracked the use of emoticons and emojis in US court cases, showed that in 2018 alone, there was a 30% increase in their use. According to the professor, 171 court cases in the US alone allowed the use of emoji evidence to support an argument.

Unsurprising But Not Definitive

Given the extent today to which people communicate digitally, whether online in posts or emails, or through messaging apps etc. it’s hardly surprising that this would begin cropping up. We use these pictures, or the symbols from which they originated, in order to convey mood, emotion, or perhaps, even intent.

And of course, in that same issue lies the problem: The interpretation of any given emoji or series thereof can be quite subjective.

And in those cases in which such evidence has been submitted, it has in the end, been up to the judge or jury to decide how to interpret them. An issue complicated by the fact that each side of a case will call for an interpretation that supports their claim, rather than the opposing one.

In addition, emojis can differ between platforms, and emoticons can be constructed differently, albeit with the same (or is it?) intent. Either way, it’s clear that as we rely more and more on this kind of emotional short-hand in our communication, so it will become more necessary for the law, and courts in particular, to deal with them in making determinations regarding intent and state of mind.