On TikTok, Gen Z and millennial drivers are virally claiming that giving reckless drivers a thumbs-down is more effective than giving them the middle finger.
Gabrielle Deleon might only be 4-foot-6 — yet the 28-year-old social media manager can be an absolute lion in rush-hour traffic.
But she doesn’t display her road rage with her middle finger or by honking her horn.
In recent months, she’s been expressing her anger from behind the wheel with a thumbs-down.
“It’s much more impactful than giving the middle finger because it’s such a major sign of disapproval,” she told The Post. “It just hits different.”
While the thumbs-up emoji was recently placed on the chopping block by younger members of the workforce for its “rude” and “hostile” undertones, Gen Z and young millennials are going all in on its polar opposite.
Twenty- and 30-somethings insist that a flash of the downward-facing digit is a more “hurtful” form of roadway retribution than flipping the bird. On TikTok, the hashtag #ThumbsDown has more than 16 million views.
“The second you receive a ‘thumbs-down’ in person, it’s like they just pushed your personal ‘dislike’ button. It can be triggering,” Brenna Sharp, 31, told The Post.
Sharp, a zip line instructor from Hawaii, swapped giving the finger for giving a thumbs-down in late 2022, in an effort to set a better example for her 3-year-old daughter. She also thinks it’s more effective with whomever offended her.
It’s “a wake up call,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh gosh, I guess I made a mistake there. They’re really disappointed [in me].’”
It certainly had an effect on TikToker Paige Brickl, 26.
She told her followers that she’s still bothered about the time she received the hand reprimand after driving too slowly on a roadway fraught with elks during a trip to Colorado.
“I think about [getting a thumbs-down] every single day,” she lamented. “Flipping people off when you’re driving is dead. Give them a thumbs-down, they will never forget you.”
Joe Navarro, a nonverbal communication and body language expert, told The Post the seemingly benign gesture can have a painful impact on a person, owing to mental shortcuts in the brain that cause people to experience immediate emotional reactions to situations.
“The brain thinks in heuristics,” said Navarro of the mental alleyways. “And when it sees something that dramatically changes the shape of the hand, leaving only one or two digits poking out … it makes you feel bad.”
He added that giving a thumbs-down, rather than sticking up the phallic middle finger, can more clearly indicate to the recipient that they did something wrong without being crass.
Navarro also noted that because the “thumbs-down” button has become the universal emblem of censure on popular platforms like YouTube, TikTok (the symbol is available to users in the comments section of a post) and text messaging apps, getting an in-person thumbs-down can cause some drivers to feel that they’re being rejected by the real world.
“We’re in an age where we need symbols to represent what we deem ‘good’ and ‘bad,’” Navarro said.
Deleon, who only started flashing the thumbs-down at fellow drivers at the start of the year, said she’s already seeing surprising results. She recently used the gesture after her Acura sedan was nearly sideswiped by a distracted driver talking on the phone.
“[The guy] looked at me and was in shock,” she said with a laugh, noting the added satisfaction of scolding the motorist without having to become too antagonistic.
“A few seconds later, I looked over into his car and he’d put his phone down.”