Buckle up — cancel culture has officially come for emoji.
Gen Z declared that the thumbs-up emoji has a “rude” meaning and should not be used in any conversation.
After one user posted on Reddit that they’re “not adult enough to be comfortable with the thumbs-up emoji reaction”, several young people chimed in to cancel other common emoji — and revealed why they should never be used.
The thumbs-up emoji gives off a passive-aggressive and even confrontational air, according to Gen Zers, who were born between 1997 and 2019. Several even claimed that they felt attacked whenever it’s used.
One 24-year-old attempted to sum up the argument by saying the thumbs-up emoji is “hostile” and is “definitely a not nice thing”.
“For younger people (I’m 24 for reference) the thumbs-up emoji is used to be really passive-aggressive,” they wrote. “It’s super rude if someone just sends you a thumbs up. So I also had a weird time adjusting because my workplace is the same.”
The anonymous office worker chalked it up to a “generational communication culture difference.”
“Everyone my age in the office doesn’t do it, but the Gen X people always do it,” they wrote. “Took me a bit to adjust and get out of my head that it means they’re mad at me.”
The poster explained a thumbs-up “is usually a response if the other person is being rude or annoying or stupid.”
Several Reddit users agreed with the decision to cancel the emoji, saying that using it in a work environment makes the team members “unaccommodating” and seem “unfriendly.”
“I understand what you mean, my last workplace had a WhatsApp chat for our team to send info to each other on and most of the people on there just replied with a [thumbs-up emoji],” one commenter said.
“I don’t know why but it seemed a little bit hostile to me, like an acknowledgment but kind of saying ‘I don’t really care/am not interested’? Don’t know if that’s the way you feel but I got used to it in time and I’m just as bad for sending a thumbs up now.”
“It’s not that odd to see it as passive-aggressive,” another chimed in. “Just imagine how would it feel to go into your boss’ room, say something, and then see him turn to you, look you in the eye, and [give a thumbs-up].”
Other generations seemed confused by emoji etiquette. “So it’s like a sarcastic thing? Man I’m getting old lol,” one wrote. “What the kids do, is not what everyone else adopts. It’s not passive-aggressive at all that I’ve seen, it seems to be a younger generational thing,” added another.”
Business consultant Sue Ellson told the Daily Mail that it could take time for the older generation to fall in line.
She explained that words are always better than symbols in a professional environment, and the LinkedIn expert can see how people would become disillusioned with just an icon.
“Predictive systems can type a word like ‘Thanks’ in two clicks after a while,” said Ellson. “It feels like people are ‘too lazy’ to type a written response and it doesn’t provide clarity as to next steps.”
“Do you mean: ‘Yes, I will do something,’ ‘OK, I agree,’ or is it just confirmation that you received the message?” she added.
On Reddit, some were less offended by the thumbs-up emoji but felt the heart symbol was actually the most inappropriate.
“To me, the heart is reserved for friends and family, and has a more intimate meaning of love, while thumbs up is just simple agreeing,” commented one person. “I actually find a heart emoji weird for work messages. I use heart emojis for things like when someone says ‘I got a new kitten,’ or ‘Susie did a really great job,’” added another.
But the heart may, too, be falling out of fashion. A survey of 2,000 people conducted by Perspectus Global showed that a majority of people between the ages of 16 and 29 believe that you are “officially old” if you use thumbs-up or heart emoji.
The official list of “cancelled” emoji includes: Thumbs-up, Red Heart, “OK” hand, Checkmark (or the Tick), Poo, Loud crying face, Monkey covering eyes, Clapping hands, Lipstick kiss mark, Grimacing face.
But one Reddit user, who classifies herself as part of an older generation, defended her emoji use, saying that she likes using the thumbs-up emoji “because it means many things.”
“It means ‘I approve’ or ‘I understood and will obey’ or ‘I agree,’” she wrote.
“If anything, my only objection would be that some days it might be hard to tell which one it means,” she offered. “But it is generally pretty clear.”
“It’s just a way to say ‘i’ve read your message and have nothing add and I hope and pray to all the god all the bazillion people in this group chat have nothing to say on it too,’” defended another user.
Several studies regarding emoji have been conducted, including one that suggested that including emoji in work emails actually makes you seem less powerful in your career.
Another study suggested that using the infamous eggplant emoji is actually a major turn-off when it comes to dating.