While rage comics had represented the beginnings of internet meme culture, Pepe the Frog might claim honours as the mascot for its heyday. From its humble beginnings on message boards like 4chan and Myspace, Pepe’s iconic “feels good man” catchphrase and anthropomorphic appearance became the basis for spinoffs. Sad Pepe, Melancholy Pepe, and a wide assortment of Rare Pepes in varied contexts became a running in-joke on these forums, eventually spreading to the rest of the internet and becoming the most retweeted meme on Twitter.
Its meteoric rise to fame has been bolstered by then-President-elect Donald Trump during the 2016 United States presidential election, during which he shared representations of Pepe the Frog. Subsequently associated with political conservatism, Pepe the Frog became the target of liberals, leading to its association with alt-right politics and thereafter white nationalism.
No stranger to censorship, Facebook’s internal memos on official Pepe policy obtained by Motherboard marks a stark departure from its stand on media posted by its users on its platform. An image of an x-ray with Homer Simpson’s head containing a swastika appears in the manual – with instructions to moderators to not take action to remove it even if others users flag it as inappropriate.
This leniency toward cartoon characters does not extend to Pepe, however. Two images of Pepe are also included in the Facebook moderator’s manual. One in ‘standard’ form, staring at its hands, and another in a Nazi Germany-styled SS Uniform, standing outside what appears to be a concentration camp. The latter should be deleted by moderators, it instructs. Images of Pepe in the context of ‘hatred’ should be censored, according to the manual.
While this marks a departure in internal policy at Facebook, many users have long noted the absence of their favourite cartoon frog on many social media platforms, such as GIPHY, the world’s largest online GIF search engine. Despite its apparent popularity, Pepe memes are nowhere to be found on the site. GIPHY is presently independently owned but enjoys a close partnership with the social media giant. It is integrated with many of Facebook’s platforms: Facebook Messanger, Whatsapp and Instagram.