Who doesn’t love a thumbs up emoji?

A well-used emoji can help us communicate emotion and tone when writing – and they’re also quick, easy, convenient – and fun!

But – if you’re ‘all thumbs’ (see what we did there!) – it is certainly possible to ‘thumbs up’ or react to a message thread unintentionally… or to miscommunicate your intentions. A recent court case in Canada shows how a simple ‘thumbs up’ can result in issues – even legal disputes.

This case involved the sale and purchase of some grain – the grain buyer (Kent Michelborough) sent a mass text message out to various grain sellers saying he was looking to buy 86 tonnes of flax $17 per bushel. After some phone discussions with a particular seller (Chris Achter of Achter Land & Cattle Ltd), Kent sent a text message saying “please confirm flax contract”. Mr Achter responded with a thumbs up emoji, but then failed to provide the flax.

The issue in this case was whether the thumbs up emoji meant ‘agreed’ or just ‘received’. Was the thumbs up Mr Archer accepting the terms offered by Mr Michelborough? – or just communicating ‘yes, I’ve received your message’? The court examined several sources to consider what the thumbs up emoji meant, and concluded that the definition can even vary from person to person.

The court acknowledged that the law must move with the times, and emojis were being used more frequently, and in a wider variety of contexts. The law cannot stop the use of how our language is used and developed.

The court also dismissed the arguments raised by the defence saying that by considering that a thumbs up emoji was valid – the floodgates would suddenly open and soon we’d all be signing agreements with fist bumps emojis in future.

Ultimately the court found that whilst an emoji is not the conventional way (or best) way to agree to a contract, a ‘reasonable bystander’ in this case would consider that the thumbs up was a valid way to ‘sign’ the contract. This resulted in Mr Michelborough being awarded approximately $60,000 USD in damages for breach of contract.

So the takeaway, is that the rule of thumb should be to be careful with your emojis, because they might be more serious than you think they are.

Aimee Brazel
Aimee Brazel

18 Aug, 2023

The information in this article is intended to provide general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice specific to your particular circumstances, you must formally engage a lawyer or law firm. The law is subject to change, and whilst we strive to keep our content up-to-date, developments may occur after publication. The information contained on our website should not be relied upon or used as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant law. Mason Lawyers takes no responsibility for any use of the information provided. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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