Millennials And Gen Z Divided Over ‘Passive Aggressive’ Smiley Emoji, Report Finds

by : Cameron Frew on : 13 Aug 2021 16:34
Millennials And Gen Z Divided Over 'Passive Aggressive' Smiley Emoji, Report FindsPA Images/Pixabay

A smiley emoji has divided millennials and Gen Zers over whether it’s ‘passive-aggressive’, according to a new report. 

People use emojis in interactions every day; in texts, Instagram posts, Facebook posts and tweets. There isn’t a tremendous amount of thought in deploying them, often used more as a reflex than anything else – for example, replying with three ‘crying face’ emojis when something is funny.


However, it’s not quite as simple when it comes to the seemingly-innocent smiley face; a pleasant message-ender for some, a jarring endnote for others.

Is the smiley emoji passive aggressive? (Emojipedia)Emojipedia

According to a new report by The Wall Street Journal, over-30s generally see the smiley face as completely innocuous, often sent with a happy or somewhat positive message. For those under 30, and particularly under the Generation Z category (born between 1997 and 2012), it can be read as rather patronising.

Hafeezat Bishi, a 21-year-old intern, recalled staff members greeting her with a smiley and feeling it was ‘dismissive… I had to remember they are older, because I use it sarcastically. There are so many emojis, and Gen Z can never take things in a simple manner’.

Younger people use emojis more ironically, a report says. (PA Images)PA Images

According to Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, older users tend to send emojis more earnestly, believing them to represent what they appear to mean; happiness, sadness, silliness etc.

Ellie York, 23, told The Independent there’s ‘definitely a more sinister passive-aggressive or sarcastic side’ to the emoji. ‘I think it’s the eyes. It’s got an ‘oh really’ expression. People my age who use emojis tend to use this in conversations with each other, not as a happy response, but in a more sarcastic or ironic sense,’ she said.

Older generations don't understand why a smiley would be misperceived. (PA Images)PA Images

For 38-year-old Donna Scott, she’s never considered it being passive-aggressive. ‘I always thought it was a way to show that what I was saying in a message was in a happy and positive context, as often the intention of a message can get lost,’ she said.

‘I don’t really see how it is passive-aggressive, I think there’s plenty of other emojis that are better suited for this, such as the raised eyebrow emoji. It actually shocked me to hear that it was seen in such a way,’ Scott added.

I guess we’ll never know how much meaning lies behind those tiny dead eyes.

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Cameron Frew

Entertainment Editor at UNILAD. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best film ever made, and Warrior is better than Rocky. That's all you need to know.

Topics: Life, Gen Z, Now


The Wall Street Journal and 1 other
  1. The Wall Street Journal

    Sending Smiley Emojis? They Now Mean Different Things to Different People

  2. The Independent