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Lawyers Faced With Emojis and Emoticons Are All ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

30 January 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Lawyers gathered at the Atlanta office of a big law firm were debating a head-scratching legal question. What does the emoji known as the “unamused face” actually mean?

They couldn’t even agree that the emoji in question—it has raised eyebrows and a frown—looked unamused.

“Everybody said something different,” recalls Morgan Clemons, 33 years old, a regulatory compliance lawyer at Aldridge Pite LLP who organized the gathering last summer at Bryan Cave LLP, called “Emoji Law 101.”

She didn’t even know that’s what the emoji was named. “I don’t think many of us in the room ever thought that’s what it was.”

Emojis—tiny pictures of facial expressions or objects used in text messages, emails and on social media—are no longer a laughing matter for the legal profession. Increasingly, they are bones of contention in lawsuits ranging from business disputes to harassment to defamation.

In one Michigan defamation dispute, the meaning of an emoticon, an emoji-like image created with text characters from a standard keyboard, was up for debate. A comment on an internet message board appeared to accuse a local official of corruption. The comment was followed by a “:P” emoticon.

The judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded in 2014 that the emoticon “is used to represent a face with its tongue sticking out to denote a joke or sarcasm.” The court said the comment couldn’t be taken seriously or viewed as defamatory.

Puzzled lawyers are turning to seminars, informal meetings and academic papers to discern innuendo in seemingly innocuous pictures of martini glasses and prancing horses. Researchers at Deakin Law School near Melbourne, Australia, produced a 61-page study on the topic slated for publication in the April issue of an academic journal.

Debra Katz, an employment lawyer in Washington, D.C., says she was stumped by a combination of emojis that included horses and one that “looked like a muffin” in text messages associated with a harassment case. She solicited opinions from her colleagues in the office about what it might mean. Her client told her it meant “stud muffin.” She says her client viewed the emojis as an extension of the alleged unwelcome advances at issue in the dispute.

“There are no limits to the emoji possibilities,” Ms. Katz says. “The reality is people are just going to keep using their technology to communicate.”

Last year, emojis or emoticons were mentioned in at least 33 U.S. federal and state court opinions, according to research from Eric Goldman, a law professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law. That is up from 25 in 2016 and 14 in 2015. He’s already counted three this year.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG says the subjects of dispute between human beings never stop growing. It’s great for business.

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7 Comments to “Lawyers Faced With Emojis and Emoticons Are All ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

  1. And I still don’t have a ‘groan’ emoji to comment on puns with.

  2. Huh. My comment disappeared. repeat:

    Couldn’t they just look it up in the emojipedia?

  3. The headline made me LOL.

    For a lot of people, emoticons are just the modern equivalent of a kid typing 58008 into their calculator and holding it upside-down. I wonder if any of the emoji/emoticon (but particularly emoticon) lawsuits involve accusations of harassment/inappropriate sexual advances. “That’s not a sexually explicit image intended as a proposition, your honor, it’s just a bunch of random punctuation marks with a couple of numbers and letters. I probably sat on my phone.”

  4. Emojipedia is new for me and it’s great.

    I particularly enjoyed the Emoji Sentiment Analysis 2015-2017 – https://blog.emojipedia.org/emoji-sentiment-analysis-2015-2017/

    An analysis of 6 billion emojis used over the past two years shows women continue to use more emojis than men, negative emoji use spikes over night, and Virgin Atlantic sees more positive emojis in its mentions than American Airlines.

  5. > she was stumped by a combination of emojis that included horses and one that “looked like a muffin” in text messages associated with a harassment case.

    Welcome to my world. The Graphic Arts people keep insisting that their pictures are so “intuitively obvious” that there’s no reason to ever use text.

    My motorcycle had a nifty “information panel” with icons; the one that clearly said “insert rectal thermometer” meant, according to the owner’s manual, “brake fluid low.” The van had an icon that lit up on the dash once. It was a picture of a menorah. The manual said it meant “tire pressure low.” There appear to be international symbols for some things that I have learned through experience; the “gravy bowl” icon means “oil pressure” and the “sailboat with pennants” is “water temperature.” Why?

    In my truck the heater controls are an absolute mystery; even the owner’s manual is no help. The icons are just zigzags and lines.

    We used to have little electric signs near intersections with stoplights. They said “WALK” and “DON’T WALK.” Then they were changed to pictures, “Joshua tree” and “backache.” In recent years the “Joshua tree” pictures have been replaced with “hand jive.” Hand jive is more informative than Joshua tree? To someone? Really?

    The local public library was next door to a church. Across the street from both was a small blue sign. I figured it was some kind of religious ‘dove’ thing, or maybe the “clasping hands” thing. A few decades later the library got a new building down the street, and the dove sign was relocated near the library. When I mentioned that was odd, my interlocutor said it was perfectly reasonable to move the “library” sign down the street to the new building. To him, the dove was a “book.” Since there was no text on the sign, I was clueless. And I’m still clueless, since the dove sign is now right next to the huge “PUBLIC LIBRARY” sign… the explanation for that was, “well, some people who want to use the library might not be able to read.” Granted unruly children or winos might want a dry place out of the weather, but how would they know what the hands or dove or whatever meant? Because while the icon is all arty and everything, it doesn’t suggest “book” to me…

    • ~~We used to have little electric signs near intersections with stoplights. They said “WALK” and “DON’T WALK.” Then they were changed to pictures, “Joshua tree” and “backache.”~~

      This cracked me up so hard. (Imagine the tilted ROFL emoji, please.)

      We were also stumped by the “menorah” and, my hubby, who figures if he doesn’t hear a thump or a creak or something, just ignore it if it goes off, did just that. I’m like, where’s the owner’s manual. “Dunno.” So I looked online. “Tire pressure low.” I look at his tire: it’s very low. My husband just doesn’t seem to get you need to check tire pressure, even if I bought him a really cool, expensive, big dial tire pressure gauge.

      In any case, we are “aired up” and the menorah is gone.

      But whoever thought that was INTUITIVE for low tire pressure…is kinda not the right person to create icons.

  6. I’m not sure whether to be amused or terrified when declining literacy expands to include symbols which are supposed to be “intuitively obvious” and obviously aren’t.

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