Gen Z and millennial drivers are rewriting the rules of street hoopla


March 15, 2023 | 6:24 p.m

Gabrielle Deleon may only be 1.20 meters tall – but the 28-year-old social media manager can be a real lion in rush hour traffic.

But she doesn’t show her anger on the road with the middle finger or by honking.

For the past few months, she’s expressed her anger behind the wheel with a thumbs-down.

“It’s a lot more powerful than giving the middle finger because it’s such a big sign of disapproval,” she told the Post. “It just comes across differently.”

While the “thumbs up” emoji has recently been put on the chopping block by younger employees for its “rude” and “hostile” undertones, Gen Z and young millennials are going for the complete opposite.

Deleon said her gesture of disapproval prompted reckless and distracted drivers to change their dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

The 20- and 30-year-olds insist that flashing the downward digit is a “more hurtful” form of street retaliation than flipping the bird. On TikTok, the hashtag #ThumbsDown has more than 16 million views.

“The second you personally get a ‘thumbs down’, it’s like you just hit your personal ‘don’t like’ button. It can be triggering,” Brenna Sharp, 31, told The Post.

Sharp, a zip-line instructor from Hawaii, switched fingers for thumbs-down in late 2022 to set a better example for her 3-year-old daughter. She also thinks it’s more effective when someone has offended her.

Brenna Sharp says sticking her head out the window and giving other drivers a thumbs-down is the new move.

It’s “a wake-up call,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh god, I must have made a mistake. You are really disappointed [in me].'”

It certainly had an impact on TikToker Paige Brickl, 26.

She told her followers that she still worries about the time she received the reprimand after speeding on a road full of moose during a trip to Colorado.

“I think about [getting a thumbs-down] every single day,” she lamented. “Turning people off while driving is dead. Give them a thumbs down, they’ll never forget you.”

Joe Navarro, an expert on nonverbal communication and body language, told The Post that the seemingly harmless gesture can have painful effects on a person due to mental wiring in the brain that causes people to experience instant emotional responses to situations.

“The brain thinks in heuristics,” Navarro said of the mental lanes. “And if they see something that dramatically changes the shape of the hand and just sticks out a finger or two… it makes you feel bad.”

He added that showing a thumbs down instead of raising the phallic middle finger can show the recipient more clearly that they did something wrong without being blatant.

A body language expert told The Post that a gesture that changes the natural shape of the hand can be perceived as negative feedback.
Getty Images

Navarro also noted that the thumbs-down button has become the universal mark of criticism on popular platforms like YouTube, TikTok (the icon is available to users in the comments section of a post), and SMS apps. Thumbs down person can make some drivers feel rejected by the real world.

“We’re in a time where we need symbols to represent what we think is ‘good’ and ‘bad,'” Navarro said.

Deleon, who only started giving other riders the thumbs-down earlier this year, said she’s already seeing surprising results. She recently used the gesture after her Acura sedan was nearly swept sideways by a distracted driver who was talking on the phone.

“[The guy] looked at me and was shocked,” she said, laughing, noting the added satisfaction of scolding the motorist without having to become too antagonistic.

“A few seconds later I looked into his car and he put his phone down.”

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