Think twice before sending your ‘Thumbs Up’ emoji!

As a fast and easy way to express ourselves in online communication, emojis have been described as the digital equivalent of body language and have become firmly embedded in the way people communicate online.  

As fun as choosing the perfect emoji may be, the power of our colourful, symbol-filled keyboard must not be underestimated. For many of us, we might send a ‘thumbs up’ emoji to convey the simple message that: “I’ve received your message”. However, the meaning behind a seemingly casual ‘thumbs up’ emoji was at the heart of a recent contract dispute case in Canada, where Judge TJ Keene ultimately found that the emoji was enough to constitute a legally binding contract.

The decision stemmed from a dispute between a farmer, Chris Achter, and a grain processing co-operative in south-western Saskatchewan. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the co-operative had ceased its face-to-face dealings between its salespersons and farmers, and instead handled contracts by phone or email. Court records revealed that an employee of the co-operative drafted a contract to buy flax for delivery in November in that year, signed it, and took a photo of it on his mobile phone. That photo was sent to Mr Achter with a message that read “please confirm flax contract”. You guessed it – Mr Achter replied with a single ‘thumbs up’ emoji.

According to Mr Achter, the emoji was not intended to operate as a signature. He argued that his ‘thumbs up’ was a simple confirmation that he had received the flax contract, but that he had not yet received the full terms and conditions of the contract. He expected that the full contract would be sent later by fax or email for his review and signature.

It did not matter that Mr Achter had exchanged many informal texts with the salesperson – or that he had received a joke from the salesperson in a previous message. The court decided that the emoji response did, in fact, amount to an agreement of the contract terms.

Mr Achter failed to deliver the flax in November and was found to have breached the Contract and was ordered to pay $82,200 CAD ($91,555.18 AUD) plus interests and costs.

“This court cannot (nor should it) attempt to stem the tide of technology and common usage – this appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and courts will have to be ready to meet the new challenges that may arise from the use of emoji and the like,” Judge Keene concluded.

In this fast-paced world many of us barely take the time to fully read the content of our social media before sending a “like” in return. With the advent of on-line signing facilities such as “DocuSign” and the use of automated on-line systems care needs to be taken. Knowledge is Power. Think before you sign or respond. If you need assistance with a contract matter please contact us and one of our team will provide the help you need.