Expulsion of Schoolgirls in Indiana Sparks Debate — “Emoticon Defense” Proof of Anything?

Some common emoticons used on the Internet.

Three 14-year-old schoolgirls were recently expelled from school in Indianapolis, Indiana for the new fad “cyberbullying.”  Apparently, the girls openly debated murdering their classmates on Facebook.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has now intervened, filing a lawsuit for the eighth grade students saying that they should not have been expelled when the conversations in question did not take place at school and were taken too seriously in general.

The lawsuit does not try to undermine the fact that the conversations did in fact take place.  However, it states that any reasonable person would have known that the statements made were in jest.  The lawyers have indicated that the use of “emoticons” in the messages are a clear indication that the subject matter was a joke.  Emoticons are characters made with normal keyboard letters and punctuation marks to indicate the emotional side of what is being said.  The most common is the smiley face… :).  Emoticons are often used on the Internet to express the mood of what is being said.  In a text-based medium, like Internet chat, words can often be misinterpreted.  Sarcasm and joking is especially perceptible to being misconstrued.  By using emoticons or shorthand like the famous LOL for laughing out loud, people are able to make sure their comments are read in the appropriate light.  Some people even type “jk” after something questionable to indicate that the previous statement was indeed a joke.

Apparently, emoticons and Internet shorthand was used in the statements that wound up with these three girls being expelled from school for a conversation that took place on their own private time and not on the school grounds.  Lawyers say that the emoticons show that the “threats” made were not meant to be taken seriously, and they insist that the school overreacted when it decided to expel them from school based on the conversations.

However, the content of the comments has some saying that the so-called “emoticon defense” is totally inappropriate.  One of the supposed threats talked about the girls putting a fellow student in a tub full of acid and lighting them on fire.  Are there enough “emoticons” to make this kind of conversation frivolous?  The mother of one of the targets certainly doesn’t think so, and she was quoted as saying that the whole line of thought was just “disturbing.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.  One thing we at Common Sense Conspiracy can assure you is that this would never fly if you were making these sorts of statements about the President of the United States.  The Secret Service will be knocking on your door, regardless of how many “emoticons” you put after a statement that could even remotely be considered a threat.  Food for thought.

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