ALTERNATE NAMES: Sad Frog
Pepe the Frog is a cartoon character that has become a popular internet meme (often referred to as the "sad frog meme" by people unfamiliar with the name of the character). The character first appeared in 2005 in the on-line cartoon Boy's Club. In that appearance, the character also first used its catchphrase, "feels good, man."
The Pepe the Frog character did not originally have racist or antisemitic connotations. Internet users appropriated the character and turned him into a meme, placing the frog in a variety of circumstances and saying many different things. Many variations of the meme became rather esoteric, resulting in the phenomenon of so-called "rare Pepes."
The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted. However, it was inevitable that, as the meme proliferated in online venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, antisemitic or other bigoted themes.
In recent years, with the growth of the "alt right" segment of the white supremacist movement, a segment that draws some of its support from some of the above-mentioned internet sites, the number of "alt right" Pepe memes has grown, a tendency exacerbated by the controversial and contentious 2016 presidential election. Though Pepe memes have many defenders, the use of racist and bigoted versions of Pepe memes seems to be increasing, not decreasing.
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 antisemitic 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.
In the fall of 2016, the ADL teamed with Pepe creator Matt Furie to form a #SavePepe campaign to reclaim the symbol from those who use it with hateful intentions.