Posted on May 24, 2016

How Conservative Trolls Turned the Rare Pepe Meme into a Virulent Racist

Jack Smith IV, Mic, May 18, 2016

On Monday night, Newsweek’s executive editor Margarita Noriega was accused of racism. Her crime? Sharing a popular meme featuring a cartoon frog known as Pepe.

This led at least one follower to ask the obvious: Since when is a cartoon frog racist?


So how did he get so racist? Memes are as good as they are versatile and remixable–and since Pepe is so permutable, Pepe can be adapted to various causes. So over the past few years, as memes became a social currency of internet culture, you probably caught Pepe in news posts, on Black Twitter, Facebook comment sections and teenagers’ Instagrams.

But the virulent trolls of 4chan have also spilled out into mainstream culture as well. Online conservative movements like Gamergate and the Donald Trump campaign have brought a troll constituency that uses dark humor, racist tropes, memes and the affectation of white supremacy. If you thought Pepe was hard to understand, have fun decoding the ethos of the emerging “alt-right.”