The emoji police are back at it again. First they came for our crying laughing face, and now they’re literally coming for our hearts — the red heart emoji specifically. According to a survey of 2,000 people, conducted by Perspectus Global, people between the ages of 16-29 think those who use it are “officially old.” The OK hand, lipstick kiss mark, and the delightfully direct poop emoji, were also designated as outdated. The worst offender? The thumbs-up emoji, the universal sign for “all good,” is now ironically considered hostile or rude.
“For younger people, the thumbs up emoji is used to be really passive-aggressive,” a 24-year-old Redditor wrote, according to the New York Post. Admittedly, one could argue that if you read a message as passive-aggressive, there’s a high chance you’re projecting your fears onto this symbol. As one Twitter user says, “Stop making every day discussion pre-emptively negative. If I use a and you take it that way, it’s a you thing. I am not a passive aggressive person. Just because you are, doesn’t mean you should project that on to me.” But the reality is that a lot of us spend a good amount of time talking to our coworkers, boss, friends, family and lovers via text or Slack and preferably would like to be on the same page.
While this topic trends on Twitter, it gives us a chance to expand on our communication skills while more of us work from home. I mean, without the occasional Zoom meetings, I wouldn’t even know what my coworker’s voices sound like, so I’d rather not offend anyone with the wrong emoji. As much as we want to say, “Who cares?”, the way we communicate with each other matters. No one wants to be misunderstood. Isn’t the point of emoji to act as a filter for how we interpret a message anyway?
The thumbs up emoji is so passive aggressive, I can’t really explain it
— Drift (@DrifterShoots) October 12, 2022
the thumbs up emoji is a form psychological warfare. why don’t you just tell me to go fuck myself instead
— emo jackie burkhart (@_ouijabored) October 13, 2022
Emoji are often used to soften our language if we are afraid it’s too “blunt,” similarly to how we throw in an exclamation mark or two or three at the end of a sentence to appear happy, easygoing, or fun. Emoji are like modern-day hieroglyphs, or at least they act as a vessel that holds the emotion we’re trying to convey when black and white letters just don’t cut it. Emoji are supposed to add voice, not shut it down.
But the major difference between hieroglyphs and emoji that gets to the crux of the problem is that the ancient Egyptian symbols relate directly to a specific word or phrase attached. Emoji, on the other hand, are more subjective. The fact that they’re open to interpretation is what leads us to polls like this that seem to crop up every few years. It’s how we update our list of what’s “in” and what’s “out.” It’s similar to the way teens of every generation have created new slang that keeps “old” people out.
We so badly want to trivialize emoji as “harmless” because, I mean, they’re silly. Consider this: I’m spending my morning writing a diatribe defending the poop emoji. But emoji matter because they are part of our cultural lexicon. If one person thinks their thumbs-up response says, “You got it dude!” (cue Michelle’s Full House gif) and on the receiving end you have someone offended by what they’re interpreting as the equivalent of the middle finger, it doesn’t exactly breed ~good vibes~ regardless of the original intent.
So while I think we can all agree the world has bigger fish to fry (what’s the emoji for climate apocalypse?), it may be worth being more mindful of how we’re communicating with each other — not necessarily retiring emoji based on trends, but being open to other’s interpretations and showing more awareness for how your emoji is received. And maybe cutting each other some “Slack” in the process (pun intended).