Yesterday, curse words. Today, emojis?

Home > Blog > Yesterday, curse words. Today, emojis?
Yesterday, curse words. Today, emojis?

Oct 12, 2017

Kristin Vartan, Pepperdine student

Emojis act almost as transferrable posters. In retrospect, I believe that emojis are expressions of emotions. They display how a person may feel in a certain moment when words are not enough.

As "face-to-face" conversation is not always possible, emojis are the twenty-first-century society's way of sharing virtual facial expressions with one another. An example would be if a friend texted another friend something funny, their way of communicating that they're laughing extremely hard is by texting back a crying from laughter emoji.

In certain cases, emojis can also be virtual picket signs for something we believe in. Certain emojis with straightforward denotations can take on a new connotation depending on the context. For an example, if someone is religious and they're telling a friend that they're thankful to God for getting them through a hit and run, they may text them the high five emoji. The high five emoji used to be mistaken for a prayer emoji before the iPhone update because of the light rays that surrounded the high five. However, the emoji after updates does not have those rays of light, making it look more like an actual high five. However, people of religious background, like myself will still use this emoji to convey an expression of religious ideas.

If Cohen v. California's intent is to protect the expression of emotions or ideas, then emojis in platforms, like Twitter or Instagram are also protected because they express the same things.

As long as those words on a jacket, or in this case, the emojis typed and published on social media, are not directed specifically at a person and are merely expressing an emotion or idea, it is totally legal to be doing so. Yesterday's "F the Draft" could very well be today's poop emoji, that is calling a law put into effect the curse word version of the emoji. It could also be the eggplant emoji, where the person using that symbol is connotatively calling the implementation of a new law, a "man's private regions" move. These emojis may be vulgar like "F the draft," but they are in the public forum and are conveying ideas and emotions, not trying to produce harm.

Kristin Vartan, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the prompt:In Cohen v. California, the Court protected two elements of speech: the emotive (the expression of emotion) and the cognitive (the expression of ideas). How do emojis come into play? Are they expressions of emotions? Of ideas? Some hybrid or would it be fallacious to even draw the connection?

Sign Up for Pfeiffer Law's Monthly Newsletter

Contact Jon and his team today.