If you told younger me that someday I’d be writing for a news organization about which emojis are “canceled,” I would probably laugh 😂.

But now that the internet and the meanings of emojis have evolved over time, I would say 😭😭💀💀 — Gen Z speak for, “that’s so funny.” I wouldn’t use the laughing emoji, because any internet-literate person in their early 20s such wouldn’t be caught dead using the laughing emoji (😂) because that’s what millennials use. (Gen Z thinks millennials are “cringe.”)

Cancel culture’s most recent victim: The ‘thumbs-up’ emoji 👍

In recent days I’ve seen headlines along the lines of, “Gen Z is canceling the ‘hostile’ thumbs-up emoji.” Fox News even states that according to Gen Z, “the ‘thumbs-up’ emoji is considered rude ... and makes people who use it look old.”

These headlines have followed the circulation of a Reddit (online forum) post, where a 24-year-old writes about having a hard time adjusting to the workforce because a thumbs-up emoji is “unsettling,” but older co-workers use it to respond to messages quite frequently.

The New York Post states that older users of the internet were confused by this sentiment, stating that they thought the meaning was obvious, a simple “OK.”

A recent survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found that the thumbs-up emoji isn’t the only one that will age you, citing a list of the top 10 emojis that Gen Z thinks make someone look “old”:

  1. Thumbs up 👍
  2. Red heart ❤️
  3. OK hand 👌
  4. Check mark ✔️
  5. Poo 💩
  6. Loudly crying face 😭
  7. Monkey eye cover 🙈
  8. Clapping hands 👏
  9. Kiss mark 💋
  10. Grimacing face 😬

Did Gen Z actually cancel an emoji?

Let’s be real for a minute, canceling something like an emoji seems frivolous, and even I, a chronically online 22-year-old, can admit that.

To answer this question, I took to social media to ask other members of Gen Z if they really think the thumbs-up emoji is as aggressive as the headlines are making it out to be, and the answers were mixed.

Most said that it depends on the context and who the message is coming from. One person stated that when they get a thumbs-up from a parent or a boss, they understand that the response means “OK,” and isn’t coming from a place of hostility. However, when talking to people their age, they use the emoji sarcastically, usually when they’re not “OK” with something.

“One time someone told me they didn’t want to go on dates with me anymore via text so I hit them with a passive-aggressive 👍,” another person said. “...but I also send it to family and co-workers to let them know that I’m cool with what they said in a genuine way.”

In short, Gen Z may have odd communication codes that they use to interact with one another, but most are smart enough to understand that their grandma isn’t trying to be passive aggressive when she sends a “👍.”