Could An Emoji Get You Arrested? 12-Year-Old Girl Faces Criminal Charges For Sending Threatening Emoji

In what can be best described as a bizarre scenario, a 12-year-old girl from Fairfax, Virginia, has been arrested and charged after she was accused of “threatening her school” by sending them a bunch of threatening messages. The threatening messages were — believe it or not — in the form of a few emojis. According to a Washington Post report, the 12-year-old girl, whose identity has been concealed, allegedly sent a threatening emoji-laden message to her school in the form of an Instagram post back in December.

The rather weird saga began on December 14, 2015, when authorities at the Sidney Lanier Middle School in Fairfax was told about a threatening emoji-laden Instagram post. Her message partly read,

Arrestes for sending emoji
Part of the threatening emoji laden message that was sent by the girl

The presence of an emoji gun, knife, and a bomb was enough to set the alarm bells ringing, and the school authorities approached law enforcement agencies for help. A resource officer from the school was entrusted to investigate the message and several students were interviewed as part of the process. School authorities also sent an emergency request to obtain the IP address of the user associated with the Instagram account. Further investigation led authorities to the 12-year-old girl who was a student at the same school. Upon questioning, the girl admitted to have sent the emojis while adding that she did so under the name of another student. While a spokesperson from the Fairfax County Schools told that the emoji threat made by the girl was “not credible,” she was charged with threatening the Sidney Lanier Middle School. She also faces computer harassment charges, the Washington Post report adds.

While the girl has been arrested for sending the emoji-laden threat, authorities have not yet revealed a motive behind the emoji message. However, the girl’s distraught mother says it was a response to the girl being bullied at school. This aspect is yet to be ascertained by authorities.

“She’s a good kid. She’s never been in trouble before,” the woman said. “I don’t think it’s a case where there should have been charges.”

According to authorities, it will take a decision from the judge to establish whether the emoji she sent indicated a desire to threaten the school. In the meantime, investigating officers are also deliberating how they should deal cases involving threatening-looking emojis — which are most often used for light-hearted conversations. According to legal experts, it would be extremely difficult to determine the true intention behind sending a threatening-looking emoji. With the growing use of emojis, some experts believe they could be used to stalk, harass, threaten, or defame people.

Whatsapp Emoji A typical emoji keyboard on Whatsapp [Image By Rahul Srinivas]Emojis have been around for quite some time now and has gained in popularity over the last few years. In the U.S. however, it took a while for them to arrive, with people only starting to use them after Apple started to offer an emoji keyboard on the iPhone starting 2011. It has now gone on to become a recognizable feature on instant messaging clients, with almost all of the popular services, including WhatsApp, SnapChat, Telegram, Instagram, and Twitter, supporting it. Recently, Facebook also expanded the functionality of its “Like” button and offers five new emojis that users can post to express their feelings.

While this might seem like a one-off case, this is not the first time that people have been arrested for sending a threatening emoji. In 2015, a teenager from New York City was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat on Facebook. The message that led to his arrest and subsequent charging read,

“N—a run up on me, he gunna get blown down”

This was followed by a police officer emoji with three guns pointed at the policeman’s head.

The teenager, later identified as 12-year-old Osiris Aristy, was not indicted in the case. The attorney of the teen alleged that the decision to charge his client was a case of “overreach” by law enforcement.

According to Tyler Schnoebelen, a linguist and founder of a company called Idibon,

“Emoji are new enough that people are finding their footing. Almost all of these cases have emerged in the past couple years. They are all going into fresh legal territory.”

Do you think arresting a 12-year-old for sending a threatening emoji was an overreaction? Or was it necessary considering the fact that there were 64 school shootings in the U.S. last year alone.

[Image: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer]