LONDON: A laughing emoji at the end of a Facebook comment amounted to defamation, Italy’s supreme court has ruled.
The country’s top judges sent a case back to court for the offense to be reassessed.
Phrases mocking a person’s physical disability, when combined with laughing face emojis, amounted to defamation, the supreme court judges said.
The court reconsidered a dispute that started on Facebook in the northern town of Luino, The Times reported.
A user openly criticized the poor eyesight of another person in a chat, ending his statement with several laughing emojis.
The defendant was convicted of defamation by a court in Varese, northern Italy, fined about $870 and ordered to pay around $2,175 in compensation to the claimant, a local businessman.
The verdict was then overturned by an appeal court in Milan, which ruled that the online conflict amounted to the use of insulting language, but did not constitute a crime.
However, the supreme court in Italy eventually ruled that the phrases, punctuated with the emojis, amounted to defamation, sending the case back for reassessment of the offense.
The defendant’s lawyers, during the earlier appeal hearing, argued that “a sight deficit doesn’t diminish the value of a person,” highlighting that their client had merely “shown himself in a bad light.”
After further studying the legal distinction between an insult and defamation, the supreme court deemed the Facebook exchange defamatory.
Francesco Micozzi, a lawyer and professor at Perugia University, said the use of the emoji in this case emphasized the defendant’s intended mockery.
The use of emojis in online correspondence is becoming increasingly subject to legal analysis. A US study revealed that emojis had been cited in court about 50 times a year between 2004 and 2019.