One emoji could cost you your inheritance

A SIMPLE smiley face emoji could have invalidated a last will and testament in a contested case in the Queensland Supreme Court.

Emojis are proving explosive in the courtroom as they appear more often in digital messages presented in evidence.

President of the Queensland Law Society Christine Smyth told The Courier-Mail that Mark Nichol, 54, wrote a text message before committing suicide. He did not hit send on the message but it was later found on his mobile.

Emojis are proving explosive in the courtroom.
Emojis are proving explosive in the courtroom.

"The message was titled My Will with a smiley face icon. It was argued that the emoji undermined the seriousness of the will. This was a contested application but the judge upheld it as a legitimate will despite the emoji and also the fact the message was not actually sent," Ms Smyth said.

"Each generation develops its own language and emojis are part of the new literacy. This is going to be an ongoing challenge in courts as lawyers argue the context and interpretation of these seemingly harmless icons."

Australian law researchers are calling for the legal status of emojis to be determined and for social media experts to coach legal eagles on interpreting digital speech.

A new study by Deakin Law School researchers has found the need for a legal response to digital speech that can confuse, threaten, defame and offend.

"With cases coming before the courts, where the intended meaning of emoji in interpersonal messages is unclear, with some resulting in jail time for the offenders, it is clear that the legal status of these images needs to be determined," study co-author Dr Elizabeth Kirley said.

"These communications can challenge current doctrinal and procedural requirements of our legal systems, particularly as they relate to establishing guilt or fault through matters such as intent, foreseeability and consensus."

The researchers posed the question: "When, for example, do threats made with gun and bomb emoji by teenagers genuinely constitute harassment or even terrorism?"



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