Can the use of emoji like 👍 – ‘thumbs-up’ have legal consequences?

September 17, 2023

Can the use of emoji like 👍 – ‘thumbs-up’ have legal consequences?


In other common law jurisdictions, courts have interpreted the use of emoji as constituting threatening behavior, harassment, acceptance of a contract and/or even defamation.1 This emerging legal trend highlights the growing significance of emoji in communication and the need for a clearer understanding of their potential consequences in the context of the law.


Emoji, originally designed to add emotional context to text messages, have evolved into a complex and often ambiguous form of expression. While they can enhance communication, their interpretation can vary widely depending on the context and the parties involved. This has created legal challenges as courts attempt to navigate the grey area.


Such use of emoji, when in the context of the law of Contract, creates multiple disputed questions of law and facts. A contract is not valid until one party accepts the other party’s offer. Majority of the disputes arises over whether one party actually accepted the offer. What defines reasonable acceptance varies, depending on the contract and what the local jurisdiction accepts. As the legal landscape continues to adapt to the digital era, it is crucial for individuals to be aware of the potential legal implications of their emoji use in various digital platform interactions.


It was observed in an Indian case2, where the Supreme Court of India made a reference to the WhatsApp chats produced as evidence that “The WhatsApp messages which are virtual verbal communications are matters of evidence with regard to their meaning and its contents to be proved during trial by evidence – in – chief and cross examination. The emails and WhatsApp messages will have to be read and understood cumulatively to decipher whether there was a concluded contract or not”. Therefore, WhatsApp conversations can be used as evidence in court.


In a recent Canadian case3, it was observed that courts need to adapt to the ‘new reality’ of how people express themselves due to the recent technological advancement and that the common usage of a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji is just as valid as a signature. In that case, a grain buyer sent a text message to its clients, advertising that the company was looking to buy a certain amount of flax at a desired price. The buyer then spoke with the seller on the phone and texted a picture of a contract and asked the farmer (the seller) to confirm the contract in the message. The seller then responded to the message with a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji. However, the seller did not deliver the flax within the time stipulated in the contract. During summary trial, the buyer and the seller in the case disputed the meaning of the emoji. The buyer pointed to earlier contracts confirmed by text message, suggesting the emoji meant the seller was agreeing to the terms of the contract. Upon hearing both the parties, Honorable Justice Timothy Keene was of the view that a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji is a non-traditional means to ‘sign’ a document. The court observed that ‘Courts cannot (nor should it) attempt to stem the tide of technology and common usage – this appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and courts will have to be ready to meet the new challenges that may arise from the use of emojis and the like’.4


In the realm of contract law, if someone makes a contractual offer, all that one needs to do to create a binding contract is communicate to the offeror (one who makes the offer) that the offeree (to whom the offer is made) accepts the terms of the offer. Such acceptance can be communicated in many ways – in writing, by text message, verbally or even by clicking on an “I accept” button on a website. 


In the current digital era, there seems to be very little ambiguity as to why acceptance could not be done with a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji, provided when it is clear that the offeree intends to accept the terms offered to him. However, a more reliable way is to confirm the acceptance in writing to avoid any misinterpretation as to the acceptance when binding oneself to a legal relationship.


Legal professionals and lawmakers still seem to be in a dilemma as they face this enormous challenge of drafting appropriate guidelines and standards for emoji interpretation in the courtroom and for legal interpretation. As the modern society’s reliance on digital communication methods continues to grow, this topic is likely to remain an issue of legal debate and further scrutiny.


Written by Ameer Faysal Rohan (Associate)

† Disclaimer: The opinions and comments expressed in this Blawg are not to be regarded or construed as legal advice by and from Vertex Chambers or any of its members. It is highly advisable that any person should seek independent legal advice before relying on any of the contents of this Blawg.

[1] Sophie Kesteven; Emojis like thumbs-up or a full moon are tiny icons, but they can have big legal implications; ABC News; available at:
[2] Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprise Ltd. v KS Infraspace LLP Limited and another
[3] The Guardian; Canadian judge rules thumbs-up emoji can represent contract agreement; Available at:
[4] South West Terminal Ltd. v Achter Land, 2023 SKKB 116 (CanLII)