The Madras High Court heard a criminal complaint filed against 46 employees of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), an Indian state-owned telecommunications company headquartered in New Delhi. The complaint was filed against BSNL employees for spamming a WhatsApp group with the emoji.
A petition to quash this complaint was heard by Justice SS Sundar at the Madurai Bench. The complainant was another BSNL employee, who had used a BSNL WhatsApp group to post a video of customers speaking of their grievances about BSNL network coverage. Taking exception to the post, the 46 accused employees retaliated by flooding the group with the LOL emoji. The complainant then filed a criminal complaint, listing out offences under the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 2002 and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015. The Court, found the complaint filed to be devoid of merit and therefore quashed, but the judge suggested an apology was in order.
However, the case prompted a legal discussion about the meaning of the emoji. The petitioners submitted the emoji expressed their emotion, while the complainant insisted there is a more sinister intent. The court order states ‘it is the contention of the learned counsel appearing for the second respondent that lots of smileys have definite meaning and the face with tears of joy was to convey hatred and to humiliate the second respondent.’ The female complainant stated the accused used 'a most annoying smiley' to humiliate her, leading to mental anguish. The respondents said the emoji was a response to the video footage rather than to the individual posting it. Justice Sundar cited freedom of speech, saying ‘everyone has a right to express their feelings and share their idea.’