The Short of It
If you're the parent of a teen or tween, you're going to want to pay close attention: using the wrong emojis can get your kid arrested.
A 12-year-old girl in Fairfax, Va., is facing criminal charges after using the gun, bomb, and knife emojis on an Instagram post back in December.
According to the Washington Post, her caption read, in part:
After a resource officer at Sidney Lanier Middle School in Fairfax was made aware of the post, the officer began interviewing students and made an emergency request to obtain the IP address of the user. The investigation led to the tween in question.
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The girl admitted to authorities she posted the offending emojis on Instagram under the name of another student, according to the Washington Post. She was charged with threatening the school and computer harassment, although the threat was deemed "not credible" by a spokesperson for Fairfax County Schools.
While a motive in the case has not yet been shared, the girl's mother said she posted the messages in response to being bullied at school.
"She's a good kid," she told the Post. "She's never been in trouble before. I don't think it's a case where there should have been charges."
She was scheduled to appear in juvenile court at the end of this month. And Dalia Topelson Ritvo, assistant director of the Cyber Law clinic at Harvard Law School, told the Post that while the message sounds threatening, it will be up to the prosecutors and the judge to figure out whether the emojis were an actual threat.
"It's challenging with symbols and images to unravel that," she said.
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Meanwhile, this is just one example of authorities trying to puzzle together the meaning behind an emoji used on social media and whether or not it constitutes an actual threat. Last year, a New York City teen was charged with making a terrorist threat after posting a police officer emoji on Facebook followed by three gun emojis pointed at the officer's head. A grand jury later declined to indict the teen, saying it was a case of "overreach by law enforcement."
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Attorneys continue to argue over whether emojis should be presented to juries as evidence. Experts say the biggest problem is determining what a defendant actually intended.
Given the fact that my 13-year-old daughter uses the phrase "Dead" to mean something is amazing and the bomb emoji at least once a day to emphasize something being "cool," as in "Those shoes are bomb," I see how this can quickly get confusing.
And with new emojis being rolled out seemingly every day, it sounds like an issue the legal system will be sorting out for quite some time.
What do you think? Should emojis be taken seriously as threats?