Emojis in Family Law Cases

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We have mentioned in the past how the use of a written text message can be considered sufficient evidence under Australian law. For example, we have discussed how a worded text message can be considered as a person’s informal will in particular circumstances.

We are now stepping beyond this and are examining the emergence of emoji use within text messages. While emojis by their very nature are ambiguous, the increased use of emojis overtime has resulted in a widely understood language of connotative meaning. This has resulted in written words being substituted with emojis in order to express specific feelings towards others.

This is a relatively new legal issue, with emojis being used more frequently as we progress forward in the 21st century. According to international social intelligence company, Brandwatch, around 9.9 million Australians regularly use emojis to communicate, and many use emojis more often than words to communicate feelings (Brandwatch, 2017). 

In the past, family law courts have struggled to keep up with the way in which emojis are being used as replacements for threatening and condescending written words. This is quite concerning, with the use of emojis such as the red angry face, the sharp knife and the gun emoji being used to imply anger and violence in a subtler way than a written text would suggest.

In recent years, there have been more and more cases where the use of emojis have been used as evidence in legal cases. In a 2017 New Zealand case, Judge Phillips found that the use of the airplane emoji from a person to his ex-partner after the words “You’re going to f***ing get it” indicated he was going to catch a flight to her and was ‘coming to get her’. As a result, the judge decided this emoji was purposely sent as a threat and he was sentenced to eight months in prison. 

Despite the fact that family law courts are now more frequently considering emoji use as having an underlying connotative meaning, it is difficult to ascertain accurately as emojis could have a multitude of meanings. For example, a simple wink face could indicate flirting, teasing, joking or sarcasm. If this is the case, you will need an experienced family lawyers to help you in drawing from the immediate message; by looking at the sender and receiver’s personal message history, as well as another other aggravating circumstances from a wider cultural context.

If you have any questions in regards to your family law case, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced family law solicitors at Owen Hodge Lawyers at 1800 770 780.


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