Popular Frog Meme Labeled as 'Hate Symbol' by ADL

Andrew Mullins | September 28, 2016
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“Pepe the Frog," a meme that has been a mascot for Trump supporters on the internet message boards, has now been branded a “Hate Symbol” by the Anti-Defamation League. 

While the origin of memes can be somewhat foggy, it is widely believed that the frog meme originated in a 2005 comic, later popularized on message boards like Reddit and 4Chan. The meme became widely associated with Donald Trump supporters on the internet when it was Tweeted by the candidate himself.

In a Sept. 27 news release, the Anti-Defamation League claimed that the meme has been used as a hate symbol to suggest racist and anti-Semitic notions.

“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. And those have spread virally on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like moustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter.

“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”

The ADL’s move is hardly surprising, as “Pepe the Frog” has met its own share of controversy in recent days.  As reported by MRCTV, the Clinton campaign issued an explainer on the meme, claiming that the meme has been “almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right.'"

In its online "Hate on Display" descrption of the Pepe the Frog meme, ADL acknowledges that the meme is "not bigoted in nature," but appears to have been hijacked as a racist symbol. 

However, because so many Pepe the Frog memes are not bigoted in nature, it is  important to examine use of the meme only in context.  The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist.  However, if the meme itself is racist or anti-Semitic in nature, or if it appears in a context containing bigoted or offensive language or symbols, then it may have been used for hateful purposes.