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Teen arrested after alleged Facebook emoji threats

Technically Incorrect: A Brooklyn teen posts little emojis of guns pointing at little emojis of police officers. His lawyer says he didn't actually intend to act out the implication.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.



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The Facebook page of Osiris Aristy, accused of making terrorist threats. Osiris Aristy/Facebook screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Emojis are words too.

Indeed, some might see them as a very modern, exalted form of digital cursive script.

That seems to be the view of the New York Police Department, after it viewed the Facebook page of 17-year-old Osiris Aristy from Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Aristy posted images of himself with guns and words such as: "feel like katxhin a body right now."

However, as DNAInfo reports, he also posted images of little gun emojis pointing at little emoji heads of police officers.

Despite his young age, Aristy apparently has something of a police record, with 12 arrests, according to DNAInfo, for alleged offenses including criminal possession of a weapon, robbery and assault.

His Facebook page was, it seems, part of routine police surveillance. When the emojis and other messages were spotted, Aristy became an arrestee. And among the charges is making terrorist threats, according to DNAInfo. The publication goes on to say that the criminal complaint offers this: "As a result of this conduct, the defendant has caused the informant and other New York City police officers to fear for their safety, for public safety, and to suffer alarm and annoyance."

Inspector Maximo Tolentino of the 83rd Precinct told DNAInfo: "You make a threat on the internet, we're going to be watching."

I have contacted the 83rd Precinct seeking comment and will update, should I hear.

CBS New York reported that one of the offending posts read: "N**** run up on me, he gunna get blown down." This was accompanied by the emoji of a police officer's head and then three enojis of a gun pointing in the head's direction.

The police also told CBS New York that Aristy had posted a selfie with his gun in the waistband of his pants. The New York Post said that Aristy had used Facebook to brag about owning a .38 gun.

There's surely an ever heightened awareness of social media threats to the police after the heinous murder of two officers in New York last month. The alleged culprit had previously made threats to the police on his Instagram account.

Aristy's lawyer, Fred Pratt, insists that his client meant no harm. He told DNAInfo: "I understand that people found what he said distasteful and uncomfortable, but he never threatened to take action against police."

How can the police or anyone tell whether a social media threat is real or not? So many people use social media to vent, rant and generally attempt to impress anyone who might be bothered to listen.

How much time must officers now spend scouring the ill-thought-out (or not) postings of suspicious (or not) individuals in order to identify real threats?

Pratt's lawyer is using this very argument: How can the police tell?

With the hundreds of millions now posting to Facebook and many other sites, there's an infinity of possibilities, an infinity of potential danger.

Every word, every picture and, indeed, every emoji could mean something. Or it could mean nothing at all.

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A sample of Aristy's Facebook postings. The emojis are clear, but the intent? Osiris Aristy/Facebook screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk for CNET