Think twice the next time you choose an emoji to use in a text message or social media post – the wrong one can get you arrested. In Fairfax, Virginia, a 12-year-old girl is facing criminal charges for using gun, bomb, and knife emojis in an Instagram post in December.
On December 14, a resource officer at Sidney Lanier Middle School in Fairfax was alerted to the girl’s post. “The officer began interviewing students and sent an emergency request to obtain the IP address of the user associated with the Instagram account,” according to The Washington Post. “The investigation led to the 12-year-old, who was also a student at Lanier.”
The girl admitted to authorities that she published the posts in question under the name of another student and was charged with threatening the school and computer harassment. The threat was regarded as “not credible,” according to a spokesman for Fairfax County schools.
While a motive has not been shared, the girl’s mother said the Instagram posts were responses to bullying. The girl was scheduled to appear in juvenile court on these charges at the end of this month, though The Washington Post notes that it’s not clear whether the case has been resolved already or not.
This is just one of many recent examples of authorities discerning the intent and threat behind emojis. In June 2015, for example, two men were taken into custody for using fist, finger-pointing, and ambulance emojis in a Facebook message. The Washington Post notes that a grand jury in New York City recently considered whether the combination of police and gun emojis amounted to a real threat to police officers.
These cases, which have only surfaced in the past couple years, “are all going into fresh legal territory,” Tyler Schnoebelen, a linguist and founder of a company called Idibon, told The Washington Post.