Sometimes through text, your feelings are best described with happy faces and hearts, but you may want to be more careful the next time you - or your kids - use "emoji" to convey a thought or phrase.

iPhone screenshot, violent emoji
iPhone screenshot

Certain emoticons - the more violent ones - have landed folks, young and old, in hot water across the country.

Law enforcement, and then the legal system, are left to determine whether someone's bomb emoji is a credible threat, or someone's kissy-face is a form of harassment.

Most recently, a 12-year-old girl from Virginia was charged after an apparent threat to her school in an Instagram post. Beyond the words "meet me in the library Tuesday," the post included a handful of gun, knife and bomb emojis.

In January 2015, the NYPD arrested a local teenager for a Facebook caption that included the cop emoji, followed by three guns pointing at the cop's head.

And at the end of last year, resource officers were sent to a pair of elementary schools in Colorado after a third-grader sent an email filled with emoji-guns, knives, bombs and other symbols that amounted to gibberish.

"Norms are changing really fast in a digital world, and it's hard to keep up," said Mary Chayko, professor of communication and information at Rutgers, and author of the new book Superconnected. "Pictures can do a lot of damage, but it's all in the interpretation."

Chayko said it's hard enough to interpret people's feelings and motives in person. Add the ambiguity involved with a text message or email, plus emoji, and mistakes can easily be made.

Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Rutgers, said emoji are viewed by most people as harmless cartoons, but if used incorrectly, their meaning gets fuzzy and that could lead to trouble.

"The important that about emoji that sets them apart from language is that there's no context," Carr said. "People have to be careful."

And just as cops would be vigilant with an unattended backpack in a train station, Carr said, they have to take the "better safe than sorry" route with these emoji-centric scenarios as well.

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