Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Five Tips for Using Emojis Without Getting Sued

Are emojis a good way to clarify your emotional intent in an email or text message? Or are they a good way to get yourself in trouble?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Emoji use is practically universal, according to this piece in the Wall Street Journal. Twenty-six million custom emojis have been created in Slack since the platform added a “custom emoji” feature, reports Entrepreneur. And more than 61 percent of emoji users say they use them at work.

But even though emojis are usually harmless – and are often helpful – at other times they can cause unintended consequences.

A case in point: a couple searching for an apartment texted a string of playful emoticons to a landlord – a smiley face, a champagne bottle, a chipmunk and dancing Playboy bunnies. The landlord, thinking this meant they wanted the place, took down the listing. When they backed out, he sued, and they wound up having to pay one month’s rent as damages.

Another case went the other way. A plaintiff sued for defamation after a negative comment on a message board ended with a :P emoji. The Michigan Court of Appeals said the emoji “is used to represent a face with its tongue sticking out to denote a joke or sarcasm” and could not be construed as defamatory.

Read more about these two cases here.

It’s all smiley faces when you’re insured with Lawyers Mutual. We’re the only legal professional liability insurance company that has been protecting North Carolina lawyers continuously since 1977. Our motto, “Here Today, Here Tomorrow,” is more than a tagline. It’s our commitment to the lawyers in this state.

“Emojis help communicators manage the emotional tone of digital messages,” writes Ryan Jenkins for Entrepreneur. “And emojis help recipients interpret the tone of digital messages.

For example, an ‘Ok’ text from someone can be interpreted many different ways: acceptance, apathy, submission or passive aggressiveness, among them. But an ‘Ok’ with a smiling face is easily interpreted as positive acceptance. Adding an emoji removes the emotional ambiguity.”

Here are five emoji usage tips from Jenkins and Entrepreneur:

  1. Unsure what emoji to use? Consult Emojipedia. You can search emojis by emotions or other categories.
  2. Emojis enhance relationships. “The proper use of emojis helps people form relationships and understand one another .... More specifically, when emojis are used at work, the majority of emoji users feel they positively impact likability (78 percent) and credibility (63 percent), and make positive news more sincere (74 percent), according to Adobe.”
  3. Hey, boomer. “Many of the mixed views of emojis can be explained largely by age. In general, the emerging generations (Millennials and Gen Z) place more value on using emojis, while established generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers) tend to view emojis as unprofessional and counterproductive. Professionals over 45 years old are more likely to say that emoji use at work is inappropriate versus appropriate, according to SurveyMonkey data.”
  4. Emojis can bridge the generational divide. “Gen Z uses emojis exclusively in text messaging 39 percent of the time. Forty-six percent of 18 to 29-year-olds think emojis are work-appropriate. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Z feel emojis best express their emotions, compared to 48 percent of Millennials, 34 percent of Gen X and 37 percent of Boomers. And 83 percent of Gen Z are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than a phone call, compared to 71 percent of Millennials, 61 percent of Gen X and 53 percent of Baby Boomers.”
  5. Emojis are fun. “Over 90 percent of emoji users agree emojis lighten the mood of conversations and show support. Fifty-three (53) percent of Gen Z use emojis to be funny. When a colleague uses emojis in their communications with Gen Z, Gen Z finds them to be more fun (50 percent), more approachable (43 percent), and kinder (35 percent).”

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations ( Contact or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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