Be careful what you emoji - it could land you in court

Be careful what emoji you use because it might mean more than you think, an Israeli court has ruled.

A judge has ruled a potential tenant showed intent to move into an apartment with her use of positive emoji in a text exchange with the landlord.

Yaniv Dahan posted the listing on Yad2 - an Israeli classifieds ad site - which Yarden Rosen responded to on June 5, 2016.

The message she wrote, originally in Hebrew, read:

"Good morning (smiley face emoji) interested in the house (dancing woman) (dancing twins) (peace sign) (comet) (squirrel)(champagne) just need to discuss the details… when's a good time for you?"

Be careful what you emoji - it could land you in court

Taking this as a commitment to the house, Mr Dahan took down the ad and began a negotiation with Ms Rosen and her partner Nir Haim Saharoff.

He'd asked them to get in touch with any amendments they wanted to make the contract so it can be signed off.

"Tuesday we're moving the apartment. Maybe Wednesday? By then Nir will have corrected the contract :)," Ms Rosen replied.

Mr Dahan then claimed in the Harzliya Small Claims Court the couple stopped contact, saying it was "as if they had never existed".

The couple later said they didn't like the condition of the house and went on to rent a different apartment. Mr Dahan's apartment was eventually rented out to other tenants.

In his ruling, Judge Amir Weizebbluth spent an entire paragraph about the meaning of emoji relating to contracts and negotiations.

"As stated, [emojis] do not, under the circumstances, indicate that the negotiations between the parties have matured into a binding agreement.

"However, the sent symbols support the conclusion that the defendants acted in bad faith. Indeed, this negotiation's parties' ways of expression may take on different forms, and today, in modern times, the use of the 'emoji' icons may also have a meaning that indicates the good faith of the side to the negotiations."

The judge says Ms Rosen's choice of emoji "convey great optimism" which led Mr Dahan to believe the couple had a desire to rent the property.

Mr Weizebbluth says the use of a smiley face in the subsequent message conveyed "everything was in order", but was misleading "since at that time the defendants already had great doubts as to their desire to rent the apartment".

He says even if the couple's withdrawal from negotiations was justified, they should have made it clear to Mr Dahan they didn't want to rent the property.

The couple were ordered to pay compensation and court costs of NZ$3200.

A paper from a California university law professor considered exactly how the icons fit into the legal system as admissible evidence in court.

Professor Eric Goldman from Santa Clara University argued emojis should be used as evidence as long as they meet the normal requirements, such as relevance to the case.

In the 2016 'Silk Road' trial of Ross Ulbricht, who created the anonymous online black market for drugs, prosecutors simply skipped over the emojis when reading messages to the jury.

Leaving them out from trial evidence could potentially mislead jurors, prof Goldman says.

"So every option has potential problems."

He says the legal system needs to catch up with new ways of communication.

"Knowing where our online communications are going, we have the opportunity to build the necessary infrastructure to prepare for the coming emoji onslaught," he wrote in a draft paper from earlier this month.

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