A cartoon depiction of a sad frog that has become a popular Internet “meme” is now considered a hate symbol.
The Anti-Defamation League said “Pepe the Frog” has been appropriated to express racist views on the Internet.
Pepe, who was created by Matt Furie, first appeared online around 2005, the ADL said, and was associated with the phrase “feels good man.” The character was the subject of countless memes, most of which were innocuous.
But the ADL says the frog has become a favorite among racists associated with the so-called alt-right. The alt-right has been described as an alternative to mainstream conservatism, but others say it is a collection of white supremacists and racists.
Some of the racist memes include Pepe depicted with a Hitler moustache or dressed in the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
Pepe still appears in many non-political memes.
“The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist,” the ADL said. “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.”
Pepe’s popularity has increased during the 2016 presidential campaign, with many supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump using it for political memes, some of which are bigoted or anti-Semitic. The ADL said the number of racist Pepe memes has been “exacerbated” by the “contentious 2016 presidential election.”
One prominent example of a Pepe meme was posted by Donald Trump Jr.and showed a photoshopped version of the movie poster for “The Expendables” showing instead Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos and Pepe the Frog branded as “The Deplorables,” in reference to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s claim that many Trump supporters were deplorable.
“Although Pepe memes have many defenders, not least the character’s creator, Matt Furie, who has called the alt-right appropriation of the meme merely a ‘phase,’ the use of racist and bigoted versions of Pepe memes seems to be increasing, not decreasing,” the ADL wrote.