Toad hits the road: Pepe declared hate symbol

October 24, 2016 — by Victor Liu and Alex Yang

Meme becomes controversial issue

To the internet’s surprise, once-harmless meme “Pepe” has been branded as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League in late September. Pepe the Frog, which depicts a poorly drawn frog with different facial expressions, now falls into a category that also includes the Nazi Swastika and Confederate flag.

    Pepe the character originated in the “Boy’s Club” comic by Matt Furie in the mid-2000s. However, users on the internet forums Reddit and 4chan quickly turned the butt-headed frog into one of the most popular memes today.

    Senior meme enthusiast Bryant Chang also has been closely following the Pepe online debacle and recalled his knowledge on the history of the green frog.

    “There was the influx of ‘Rare Pepe [memes]’ that appeared around a year ago,” Chang said. “Basically, people manipulate the images of Pepe to express what they are feeling.”

    Furie claimed that the frog was meant to bring a smile to people’s faces. Although not in the way he expected, that definitely happened through Reddit and online forums.

    In 2015 and 2016, Pepe became one of the most popular internet memes to date, even spreading to mainstream media through its postings by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump linked a fan-made compilation video on YouTube titled “You Can’t Stump the Trump” along with a tweeted photo of Pepe photoshopped with Trump’s signature hair.   

    Unfortunately, this frog has been categorized as a hate symbol because the “Alt-right” movement has allegedly adopted it as a symbol of bigotry and racism. The ADL itself also posted a report on its decision to add Pepe to its list of hate symbols.

    “Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in an interview with ADL’s online media department. “They’ve twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users.”

    At SHS, several students have been following the meme both before the incident and after. Sophomore Noah Lee is one of them.

    “It’s still a funny meme, but now I have to be careful where I bring it up because it could spark controversy,” Lee said. “What did Pepe ever do to them?”

    Chang was also in disagreement with the mainstream media’s treatment of Pepe.

    “The news agencies only know the racist Pepe: the images used by the Alt-right,” Chang said. “They have no idea of the vast amount of acceptable Pepe images that are used throughout the internet. I honestly find the whole Pepe situation amusing because people are angry at a cartoon frog.”

    Although Chang didn’t agree with the decision to designate Pepe as a hate symbol, he sympathizes with some of those who do.

    “The actions of a few Alt-right trolls have scarred the good name of Pepe, but the backlash is understandable,” Chang said. “People who have no knowledge of memes suddenly sees a green frog used as a Nazi symbol so they designate it as hate speech.”

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