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Emojis Becoming A Perplexing Factor in Harassment Cases

Emojis are the cute, funny and sometimes confusing little images that many people use in social media, text messaging, chats or emails. Emoji images can sometimes be difficult to decipher. If you show a new emoji to 10 different people, you might get 10 different interpretations of its meaning.

Now imagine trying to apply that confusion to a harassment case where both parties have used emojis. It’s a growing difficulty that the courts are facing, and part of the reason why some companies have employee emoji policies, with guidelines regarding their use in communication with other employees.

Here are just a few ways that emojis have popped up in recent court cases.

  • A public official in Michigan was accused of corruption on an internet message board. The official sued for defamation. The judge ruled that due to the use of a ":P" emoticon that the message was a joke or satire, and therefore could not be considered defamation.
  • In a California harassment case, a man allegedly sent sexually explicit texts to a potential employee. She responded with an emoji showing a red-lipstick kiss mark. Attorneys are arguing over whether she approved his advances or if she was trying to politely keep her distance.
  • In a Washington, D.C. harassment case, the defendant sent the plaintiff a text featuring emojis of horses and a muffin. The plaintiff interpreted this as "stud muffin," even though the attorneys representing her could not come up with an interpretation of the emojis.

Emojis have become a major part of online communication, and have added an additional layer of complexity to harassment cases. If you believe you have been a victim of harassment, consult with an experienced attorney to review your case.

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