Can The Use Of β€˜Thumbs-Ups' Emoji Be Recognized as Valid Acceptance of Contractual Terms

29 Oct 2023


In an increasingly digital world, the way we communicate is constantly evolving. Emojis have become a ubiquitous part of online conversations, adding nuance and emotion to our text-based interactions. However, as our reliance on digital communication grows, so do questions about its legal implications. One such question is whether the use of emojis, particularly the 'thumbs-up' emoji, can be recognized as valid acceptance of contractual terms. In this article, we delve into the complex and evolving intersection of contract law and digital communication.


The Role of Acceptance in Contract Formation:

Before we explore the use of emojis in contracts, it's essential to understand the basics of contract formation. Contracts are legally binding agreements that typically require an offer, acceptance, consideration, and an intention to create legal relations. Acceptance is a crucial element in this process. It is the manifestation of the offeree's willingness to be bound by the terms of the offer, resulting in a legally enforceable contract.


Emojis as a Form of Communication:

Emojis have become an integral part of our daily communication, allowing us to express emotions, reactions, and even agreements in a concise and visually engaging manner. The 'thumbs-up' emoji, represented as πŸ‘ (thumbs up), is often used to signify approval, agreement, or affirmation. In casual conversations, its meaning is clear, but can it carry the same weight in a contractual context?

Context Matters:


The interpretation of emojis in contract law is highly context-dependent. In some cases, the use of a 'thumbs-up' emoji may leave no room for ambiguity. For instance, if it is used in response to a clear and unambiguous offer, and there is no other conflicting information in the conversation, it could reasonably be construed as acceptance. However, ambiguity can arise when the context is less clear or when multiple emojis or textual messages surround it.


Meeting of the Minds:

A basic principle of a contract law is the "meeting of the minds" between the parties. In other words, both parties must intend to enter into a legally binding agreement. While the 'thumbs-up' emoji may indicate agreement, it doesn't necessarily prove the requisite intent for a contract. Courts may consider additional evidence, such as the surrounding text or prior communications, to determine if the parties genuinely intended to be bound by the emoji.


Formal Requirements and Legal Jurisdiction:

In some jurisdictions, formal requirements for contract acceptance, such as a written agreement or a signature, must be met. Using an emoji alone may not fulfill these requirements. Therefore, it's crucial to understand the legal rules and formalities specific to the jurisdiction in question.


As per the recent ruling, the King's Bench for Saskatchewan in Canada:

In a recent Canadian court case involving contract law, a rather unusual situation emerged. The court was tasked with deciding whether the use of a "thumbs-up" emoji could be considered a legitimate way to accept a contract. In this one-of-a-kind case, Justice T. J. Keene recognized that using a thumbs-up emoji to 'sign' a document was unconventional. However, it was deemed acceptable as a form of acceptance only when it clearly indicated both the identity of the person signing and their agreement to the terms of the flax contract.

The aforementioned case involved two companies, South West Terminal Ltd. (SWT) and Achter Land & Cattle Ltd. (Achter), who had previously engaged in business transactions, found themselves in a legal dispute. SWT filed a lawsuit against Achter, a farming company, alleging a breach of contract. The basis for this claim was Achter's alleged failure to fulfill their obligation to deliver 87 (eighty-seven) tonnes of flax seeds, leading to a disagreement between the two parties. SWT contended that Achter had not delivered the agreed-upon quantity of flax as per their contract.


When assessing the validity of the contract, the court placed significant emphasis on the principle of consensus ad idem, which signifies a meeting of the minds between the parties involved. The court observed that Chris, who was representing Achter, had a well-established history of conducting business with SWT. Prior communications between Chris and Kent, who represented SWT, consistently showed a pattern of successfully entering into legitimate and binding contracts on numerous occasions.


The court pointed out that Kent's request, 'Please confirm flax contract,' and Chris' response using the πŸ‘ (thumbs up) emoji, were strikingly similar to prior exchanges regarding durum contracts. Importantly, those previous durum contracts had been upheld as legally binding, even when the πŸ‘ (thumbs up) emoji was used to indicate acceptance. While Chris claimed he was unaware of the emoji's significance, the court considered how a reasonable, informed observer would interpret it. They noted that the πŸ‘ (thumbs up) emoji is widely understood in digital communication to convey agreement, approval, or endorsement.


Taking into account the context and the history of conversations between Kent and Chris, the court determined that Chris had indeed accepted the contract by using the πŸ‘ (thumbs up) emoji, just as he had in previous instances. The court concluded that an objective, informed bystander, aware of the prior interactions, would recognize that a meeting of the minds, or consensus ad idem, had occurred in this case.


In this particular case, the court established that the fundamental details of the flax contract were explicitly outlined in the initial page of the contract sent to Chris. These details encompassed information about the parties involved, the specific quantity of flax, and the agreed-upon price. Consequently, the court concluded that the purported flax contract between SWT and Achter was legally valid. The court held Achter accountable for breaching the contract due to their failure to deliver the specified amount of flax. Additionally, the court calculated the damages owed to SWT, which totaled $82,200.21.



This judgment underscores the importance of recognizing that electronic means can be used to accept contracts, even when seemingly informal tools like emojis are involved, contingent on the context. It serves as a reminder that the personal intentions of the parties involved carry no legal weight in determining a contract's validity. Instead, the court assesses validity by examining the intentions of the parties through the lens of a reasonable and objective bystander who possesses all relevant information that the contracting parties share.

If a reasonable and objective bystander would interpret the sending of an emoji as an act of contract acceptance, then the parties may find themselves bound by the terms of the contract, irrespective of the unconventional method of acceptance. Ensuring clarity in written communication becomes paramount to prevent disputes and to ensure that all parties possess a clear understanding of their respective contractual obligations and the existence of a valid contract.