Emojis Leave Room for Interpretation

Emojis Leave Room for Interpretation

In 2016, we posted a blog on the popular topic of emojis having their day in court. That trend continues with a case out of Israel in which a judge ruled that the selected emojis in a text exchange helped express intent.

As reported by Quartz, after a landlord placed an online ad for a vacant apartment and a prospective renter responded, a text exchange ensued, with the renter expressing interest in the property. “We’ll take it,” said the renter and included a series of very specific emojis, including a smiley face, a woman dancing and a champagne bottle. Believing the renter had committed to renting the property, the landlord removed the ad and discontinued seeking prospective tenants. Then, the tenant who had expressed interest disappeared, seemingly no longer interested in the property. In response, the landlord sued for damages.

The judge overseeing the case in Tel Aviv found that the emojis did help the tenant express interest in the available property.

“These icons convey great optimism. Although this message did not constitute a binding contract between the parties, [it] naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the Defendants’ desire to rent his apartment…These symbols, which convey to the other side that everything is in order, were misleading.”

Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman found that in 2016, 80 judicial opinions mentioned emojis and emoticons. To Prof. Goldman, such cases of icon interpretation will become both more prevalent and difficult, especially since emojis don’t necessarily carry the same meaning across cultures. For example, in China there is “a whole secret sneering emoji sub-lingo in which smileys don’t necessarily indicate good feelings or faith.”

And the intended meaning behind the use of some emojis is just a mystery. Quartz points out that in the fateful “We’ll take it” exchange, the tenant also included the chipmunk emoji. 🤔

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