Emoticons Of Death

To paraphrase Paula Cole: “where have all the gangstas gone?”

Back in my day, if you stiffed a drug dealer on a drug deal, you’d be signing yourself up for a world of hurt. Nowadays, backing out of a drug deal gets you Insta-bombed with meany emoticons.

Well, the law can adjust to this new softness. If drug dealers are going to threaten people with hateful emoticons (or “emoji” as is the technical term), then the law is fully capable of recognizing the threat. You know how the song goes (NSFW):

Grab your gifs when you see 2pac
Close the comments when you see 2pac,
Who snarked me, But your punks didn’t finish
Now you ’bout to feel the frown of a menace
Nigga, I gram ‘em up

The way we get from drug deal gone bad to threatening emoji is a little bit convoluted. A reporter, Fletcher Babb, was doing a story on the drug “lean,” which is apparently a “promethazine and codeine-laced cough syrup” according to Mashable. I’m not going to even pretend that I understand what that is, so I’ll just take Mashable’s word for it and move on.

Babb was able to find an Atlanta rapper/drug dealer who was openly selling the stuff via text on Instagram. Again, I barely understand what that means.

Anyway, once Babb got his story he withdrew his offer to buy drugs. This angered the unnamed rapper/drug dealer. In true Thug Life fashion the dealer blew up Babb’s Instagram account. From Mashable (gavel bang: ABA Journal):

[Babb] opened the app to find that the dealer (name withheld at Babb’s request) was calling him out for allegedly placing an order for lean, then subsequently withdrawing his payment. In response, the man posted a photo of Babb’s Instagram account to his own feed and tagged him in it, along with a foreboding collage of emojis: a face with X’s for eyes, and a gun pointing at the face.

In the comments, the dealer said he would remove the photo as soon as Babb delivered the money.

Oh noes.

Thing is, stalking and threatening is stalking and threatening if a reasonable person could feel stalked and threatened. Somebody could send mean Instagrams, hell someone could send mean candy-grams to a person and that could be crime. In fact, how freaked out would you be if a pissed off drug dealer sent you some candy and said it was your last treat? Look, if “lol, j/k” isn’t enough to get you out of a terroristic threat, surely a smiley-face death threat is still a threat.

Babb isn’t trying to bring charges against the dealer. He probably doesn’t want to incite anymore emotional expressive violence.

But lord help me if we’re now living in a world where gangsters are reasonably in fear of threatening emoticons.

“What the hell is this?”
“It’s an old ASCII message, it means Luca Brasi is sticking his tongue out at you.”

Is emoji death threat a criminal offense? Possibly, law prof says [ABA Journal]


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