“Pepe the Frog” Meme Deemed Hate Symbol

Tahreem Farooqi - 1A Planning
Posted on: October 8, 2016

The popular meme “Pepe the Frog” (also known as “Sad Frog”) was deemed a hate symbol according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Anti-Defamation League focuses on stopping anti-Semitism in the United States, as well as reducing any sort of bigotry and protecting the civil rights of others. This list contains symbols that have been infamous for their horrific implications, such as the Confederate flag and the Swastika, and now includes what most people would consider a harmless meme. The nature of a meme itself contradicts this decision altogether; a meme is photo or text meant to provide humour to a subject, most often used on social websites and online forums.

This meme in particular has mostly been used in harmless contexts. Pepe originates from the comic Boy’s Club by the author, Matt Furie. The comic, centered around “Pepe the Frog” and his four other animal friends, was a comic having no real negative connotation but “simple college humour” says Furie to the Washington Post. The frog became a meme as it began to circulate around the websites 4chan and  reddit and, as it became more popular, around more mainstream social networks as well.

“Seeing a frog always takes my breath away and brings a genuine smile to my face. That is what I want every reader to experience each time they think about the ‘Boy’s Club’ comic—a thrill of overwhelming beauty and joy!” Furie told the Daily Dot. And, indeed, the use of the frog was mostly used in the context of joy and, if not, in the context of comical sadness. The general purpose of using the frog is pure comedic reasons; despite this, the frog is now considered a symbol of hate.

It was only once the meme started to be used in a negative context, such as making jokes concerning horrific events such as the World War II and 9/11, that it was placed on the list.

The main concern is that the meme was considered in conjunction with white supremacy. The white supremacist group called “alt-right” adopted this meme and used it to support the Trump candidacy. Using the meme, they made many jokes of an anti-Semitic and racist nature. This isn’t the first time they abused common forms of online communication in a racist manner. Once before, they used the “echo” punctuation which is a triple parentheses used in online communication to signify echoing a name. The “alt-right” group used this form of punctuation to signify Jewish journalists, opening the door of harassment. The “echo” parentheses was placed on the Hate Symbols Database soon after.

Most importantly, the Anti-Defamation League clarifies that context is important. They understand that the main use for the frog is harmless comedic purposes and, in that context, the use of the meme is not considered a form of hatred. The only time it will be considered a form of hatred is when the meme is used in the context of anti-Semitism, bigotry, racism, and other horrific social injustices.