The Pepe the Frog meme was frequently used by the alt-right throughout the Trump era, but Crypto Twitter doesn’t want to hear it.
Twitter users will have noticed this morning that #DELETECOINBASE is trending. Calls to boycott the exchange came after Coinbase issued an email newsletter briefly illuminating the associations between Pepe the Frog – the meme, not the token – with alt-right hate groups.
The email read: “PEPE, which was issued around three weeks ago with a comically huge supply of 420 trillion tokens, has been leading the memecoin activity. The token is based on the Pepe the Frog meme, which first surfaced on the internet nearly 20 years ago as a comic-strip character. Over time it has been co-opted as a hate symbol by alt-right groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.”
Many Twitter users perceived this as an attack on $PEPE, with some withdrawing their funds from the exchange and deleting the app.
There’s a crucial point that many of the so-called ‘$PEPE Army’ have overlooked, though: Coinbase didn’t attack the token or say that ‘$PEPE is racist’, it addressed the history of the actual meme in a way that is factually correct.
And, as suggested in the name ‘memecoin’, it’s impossible to fully separate the meme from the coin.
Let’s take a brief look at Pepe the Frog.
Pepe the Frog is a cartoon character created by artist Matt Furie in 2005. He first appeared in the comic book series “Boy’s Club,” which follows the adventures of a group of anthropomorphic animal friends, including Pepe, who is depicted as a laid-back, stoner frog.
Pepe became a popular internet meme in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and its popularity grew to the point that he was featured in mainstream media and merchandise, including clothing, toys, and even a children’s book.
Things turned a bit sour for Pepe in 2015, when he became appropriated by alt-right and extremist movements. Pepe (who was originally created as a laid back, stoner character) was most notably appropriated by the Trump campaign and the MAGA ilk – and even by Trump himself.
Indeed, Forbes reported that Trump was essentially ‘memed into office‘, adding that “there’s only one meme responsible: Pepe the Frog.”
In a study analysing 160 million memes, researchers at University College London found that most toxic yet effectively spread memes are first shared in two places: the subreddit r/the_donald and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum, called /pol/. Even before Trump’s presidency, Pepe was one of the most popular memes on these forums.
Here are some examples.
Pepe’s association with hate became so prevalent that its creator, Matt Furie, wrote a detailed piece in Time Magazine “reclaiming him“.
Furie wrote: “It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate, and that racists and anti-Semites are using a once peaceful frog-dude from my comic book as an icon of hate […] Before he got wrapped up in politics, Pepe was an inside-joke and a symbol for feeling sad or feeling good and many things in between. I understand that it’s out of my control, but in the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is, and I, the creator, say that Pepe is love.”
While crypto Twitter is seemingly shocked that Coinbase addressed the link, it’s old news. If anything, the exchange has understated the history of Pepe’s right-wing hijackers.
It’s true that Pepe is no longer (or rarely) appropriated by the right, but is addressing recent history reason enough to boycott one of the world’s largest and most reliable exchanges? Probably not.
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