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When cute becomes criminal: emoji, threats and online grooming
journal contributionposted on 2019-01-01, 00:00 authored by Marilyn McMahonMarilyn McMahon, Elizabeth Kirley
Emoji are widely used and are frequently perceived as cute or benign adjuncts to online communications. However, they perform a far more sinister role when used to convey threats or to sexually exploit minors. This paper explores the role of emoji in both threats and online grooming, noting the distinctive opportunities and interpretative challenges posed by these stylised visual representations. Through a qualitative review of a sampling of criminal cases primarily from diverse common law jurisdictions, we examine relevant prosecutions and find that emoji are being increasingly recognized as a facilitator or adjunct to criminal threats and unlawful sexual solicitation made on online platforms such as Facebook or through private messaging. The article concludes that while emoji present distinctive interpretative challenges, imposing criminal liability for threats or solicitation conveyed by them is a necessary evolution of the criminal law, demonstrating its adaptation to the digital age.