Virginia

Child Faces Criminal Charges After Using Weapon Emojis on Instagram

A message featuring gun, knife, and bomb emojis has landed a Virginia 12-year-old in trouble with police.

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David Parry/PA Wire via Flickr

A Virginia 12-year-old faces criminal harassment charges after posting an Instagram message that said "meet me in the library Tuesday" followed by gun, knife, and bomb emojis. A classmate at the student's middle school in Fairfax, Virginia, reported the post to an in-school police officer, who obtained an emergency warrant to find out the IP address associated with the Instagram account. 

It's yet another regrettable example of what happens when we make our schools into mini police-states. From sexting to bullying to bringing contraband items to school, problems that would once have been handled between school administrators and parents are now routinely referred to the police. 

It's also an interesting case from a free-speech perspective. "The case is one of a growing number where authorities contend the cartoonish [emoji] symbols have been used to stalk, harass, threaten or defame people," The Washington Post notes. "And that has left the police and courts wrestling with how to treat a newly popular idiom many still dimly grasp." Emoji, the Post points out, "have no set definition and their use can vary from user-to-user and context-to-context." 

In the Fairfax case, a 12-year-old girl was discovered to be behind the allegedly-threatening messages. Her mom told the Post that her emoji message, which was posted pretending to be another student, was a migsuided response to the child feeling bullied at school. She was charged with computer harassment and making threats against the school, although a spokesman from the Fairfax County School district said the threat was deemed "not credible." 

In January 2015, a Brooklyn teen was arrested for posting "Nigga run up on me, he gunna get blown down" to Facebook followed by a police-officer emoji and three gun emojis. A grand jury eventually declined to prosecute.