You Could Get in Serious Trouble for Emoji Threats

Experts say they would be admissible in court
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2014 10:57 AM CST
Emoji icons   (©)

(Newser) – If someone threatens your life via emoji, do you have any legal recourse? Mashable calls the topic of emoticon threats "unexplored territory in cyberlaw," but experts say the answer is yes, such threats would be admissible in court. Mashable's piece specifically looks at the case of Fletcher Babb, a reporter who found himself faced with an emoji death threat while reporting on Instagram's underground drug market for Vice. The threat in question, which came from a drug dealer and was delivered on Instagram, featured a gun emoji pointing at a "smiley" face with Xs for eyes.

Babb reported the threat, but Instagram never removed the post. So, could he have gone to the police? Law enforcement must "determine whether a person would have been reasonably threatened," explains a criminal justice professor and cyberbullying expert. "I think a reasonable person would be threatened" by the message directed at Babb. Such a message could constitute harassment, assault, or stalking, he says, though the case would be stronger if multiple threats were received or if a physical action was actually taken. In civil court, an emoji threat could be considered defamation or intentional wrong resulting in harm. Mashable notes this is all very theoretical, but a lawyer notes, "Whatever laws exist in the real world are usually applied to a threat in the digital world." (Read more emoticon stories.)

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