Use caution when choosing emojis for social media


By Paul Delutio

After a disappointing exam performance, you promptly grab your cellphone and text your best friend, “Failed my test, just shoot me.” You accompany the message with a gun emoji and send the text. Does your best friend think you’re going to shoot yourself? If they have known you long enough, then probably not.

Recently, a middle-school-aged girl from Virginia was arrested because of allegations involving emojis, and although it sounds absurd, our ability to interpret the actual meaning behind emojis is now under scrutiny.

The girl who posted this questionable message on her Instagram included the bomb, knife and gun emojis, including threatening buzzwords such as “Killing.” She was charged with computer harassment because the message was aimed against her school.

Back to my originally proposed scenario: imagine you posted the message you sent your friend to your Facebook instead. Without any background knowledge concerning you as a person, hundreds of strangers could interpret the message incorrectly regardless of your intent. Some of them might even contact the authorities if they truly believe your mental state has been compromised.

This “better safe than sorry” mentality is exactly the policy that authorities are beginning to implement when dealing with any kind of threat over social media — and the decisions they make in doing so are fully justified. Their no tolerance policy should hold strong, even if threats involve the seemingly harmless emojis we’ve grown to know and love.

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For example, a teenager from Brooklyn was arrested recently because of threats he made on Facebook that suggested the killing of police officers; the message included the gun emoji pointed towards a police officer emoji. These threats were not taken lightly, and the teen was quickly arrested. Although the teen did not cause any violence, upon searching his home the officers discovered a handgun and numerous bags of marijuana.

Given the content of his message, this teenager was clearly more likely a candidate to lash out and butt heads with the law in the future, and the threat he made was indicative of his likelihood to participate in illegal endeavors. However, there is still a gray area with comments that appear threatening in nature.

As college students, most of us understand when something online could be interpreted as threatening in nature, and many of us exercise caution and concern when using technology as a means of communication. We are the generation that grew up with social media every step of the way and we understand it better than anyone. Therefore, it’s up to us to help minimize this younger generation’s misuse of technology and their immature online threats.

Meddle in the business of your little brother or little sister. Make it a point to observe how they use their social media and whether or not they are using it responsibly. The generation just below us was “thrown into the deep end” with social media and were never even given a chance to test the water. Because of this, their actions are often unhinged and brash because of their illusion of anonymity.

So take a look at your little brother’s Instagram, or your little sister’s twitter. Let them know that even the authorities can see their Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino.

Paul is a freshman in LAS.

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