Thanks To Online Racists, Pepe The Frog Is Officially Ruined

The Anti-Defamation League added the meme to its database of hate symbols, citing a rise in use by white supremacist

Illustration: Vocativ
Sep 28, 2016 at 12:25 PM ET

The Anti-Defamation League added Pepe the Frog to its online hate symbols database — officially ruining forever a once-beloved meme. The animated amphibian has long been used in many a meme context, but the ADL argues that it’s now been significantly co-opted by the “alt-right” and white supremacists.

“Also referred to as the ‘sad frog meme,’ Pepe the Frog did not originally have anti-Semitic connotations. But as the meme proliferated in online venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, a subset of memes came into existence promoting anti-Jewish, bigoted, and offensive ideas,” the ADL said in a statement released Tuesday. “And those have spread virally on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.” Pepe was officially added to the group’s database last week.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the ADL, told Vocativ in an email that Pepe had been in his “bucket” of symbols potentially worth adding to the list for a few months. “What finally tipped the scales, though, were the questions we were getting about it recently, largely because there was so much conversation and debate about the meme in the public sphere,” he said. “People wanted to know more about the meme and how it was being used.”

More Hillary Clinton Goes To War With Pepe The Frog

The ADL’s database admits that the majority of uses of the meme continue to be “non-bigoted.” However, it points out the meme’s many anti-Semitic and anti-black uses, in which Pepe is dressed in SS or Nazi gear and saying things such as, “Kill Jews, man” (a play off of his normal catch phrase, “Feels good, man”). “Because the Pepe the Frog meme is much talked about, but also because there are a lot of rumors and incorrect information around regarding the meme as well — claims that inflate as well as claims that try to deny its usage by racists — we wanted to be able to give people a nuanced context and understanding,” Pitcavage told Vocativ.

The character’s creator, Matt Furie, told Vocativ Tuesday that the character’s use by far-right groups is a “dumb phase I have no connection to.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign earlier this month devoted an entire page to explain the white supremacist leanings of Pepe the Frog, as well as its unofficial endorsement by Donald Trump’s social media accounts.

Previously, the ADL added the triple (((echo))), an identifier used by white supremacists on social media to single out Jews, particularly members of the media, to its database. The symbol, however, was later embraced by Jewish journalists and their supporters as a way to diminish its sinister connotation.