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Virginia girl faces criminal charges after Instagram post

These days, a majority of young people use at least one form of social media. Emojis are often used to liven up social media posts and express emotions online. Virginians are now learning that using certain emojis can lead to juvenile crime charges.

A 12-year-old Virginia girl is facing charges for her recent Instagram posts. Last December, the middle-schooler posted a message on the popular social media site using the words "Killing meet me in the library Tuesday" with gun, bomb and knife emojis. There were allegedly other posts as well.

A resource officer at the girl's school became aware of the posts. The officer investigated further and sent an emergency request to get the IP address of the user associated with the Instagram account. Eventually, the investigation led to a 12-year-old at the school.

The search warrant indicated that the girl admitted to posting to messages under the name of another student. The motive of the messages is unclear, but the girl's mother stated that she posted them in response to bullying.

The girl was charged with threatening the school and computer harassment. She was set to appear in court at the end of February, but because hearings are not open to the public, it is unclear whether the case has been resolved. However, a spokesman for area schools reported that the threat was found to be not credible. It will be up to the prosecutors and the judge to figure out whether the girl's emojis show an actual desire to threaten the school, or if they were just a way for her to express anger or another emotion.

This is not the first time that emoticons have become an issue in criminal court. Grand juries and judges all over the country have had to evaluate whether emojis should be considered threatening in certain situations. There is also the issue of whether emojis should be considered evidence.

If they should be considered, there will need to be a protocol for how emojis should be presented to juries. In any case, with an estimated 6 billion emojis sent every day, this will likely be an issue that continues to come up in the courts.

Source: The Washington Post, "A 12-year-old girl is facing criminal charges for using certain emoji. She's not alone," Justin Jouvenal, Feb. 27, 2016

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