Floods, fires…and emojis: they are all risks to your business

by | Sep 20, 2023

When most business owners hear the word “risk,” images of floods, fires, cyclones, and even pandemics might come to mind. These are challenges that, at the very least, we’re familiar with. However, there’s a multitude of risks out there that you might never consider. For instance, personal challenges like divorce, illness, or a family tragedy can all influence the operations of a business. Then there are economic downturns, which we all dread.

But in the age of technology and digitisation, there are even more surprising pitfalls to be wary of, like the world of emojis. Who would’ve thought a simple thumbs-up emoji could land a company in legal hot water?

The thumbs-up tale from Canada

Here’s a recent story from Canada that made me think. Their highest court, similar to our Supreme Court, recently dealt with a curious case. Two businesses had been working together for years. Their usual way of confirming contracts was simple: a chat, a photo of the signed agreement sent via text, and a confirmation reply. That reply was often a simple “ok” or “looks good.” But one day, instead of words, the response was a thumbs-up emoji.

Things went downhill when one business didn’t deliver on their agreement. The matter went to court, and the main point of contention was that thumbs-up emoji. Was it just a casual acknowledgment, or was it a binding confirmation of the contract?

The court took a modern approach, even consulting Dictionary.com for clarity on what the emoji means. In the end, they decided that in the context of the businesses’ history and the way they usually operated, the thumbs-up was as good as saying “ok.” It became clear that in the digital age, even emojis can have weighty legal implications.

Australia and the emoji puzzle

But what does this mean for businesses in Australia? Our legal system is quite similar to Canada’s. So, this case could conceivably influence future decisions here, too. In fact, Australian courts have already had to interpret emojis in other contexts. Emojis are no longer just fun icons we add to our messages. In the legal world, they’re starting to be seen as expressions of intent.

Navigating the emoji minefield

It’s a world where a wink emoji might mean more than just a playful gesture. Could it hint at a discount? Might a heart emoji indicate more than just liking something, perhaps suggesting a long-term commitment? Or could an angry emoji be interpreted as bullying or coercion? In this evolving landscape, it’s crucial for businesses to be careful about how they communicate, especially in formal contexts like contracts.

For many, the safest route might be to avoid using emojis in business communications altogether. But if you’re someone who loves adding that personal touch with a smiley face or thumbs-up, just be sure of its implications. And remember, while the digital world is embracing emojis, traditional legal documents in Australia still need those good old-fashioned signatures.

Final thoughts

The world of business is full of surprises. From unexpected personal challenges to new digital dilemmas, there’s always something new on the horizon. While technology offers incredible tools for communication, it’s also introducing new challenges. Emojis, for all their fun and efficiency, can now apparently carry real weight in the legal world.

For businesses keen on staying ahead, it’s essential to keep adapting, learning, and most importantly, understanding the evolving landscape. In the fast-paced digital realm, striking a balance is key. And when it comes to emojis in official communications, perhaps it’s best to think twice. After all, a picture (or emoji) is worth a thousand words – or in some cases, a binding contract.

This post first appeared on https://insidesmallbusiness.com.au on September 11, 2023.