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The Internet, free speech and Pepe

The Internet, free speech and Pepe
Photo courtesy of @codyave via Twitter

It’s the sad, horrible truth: Pepe the Frog is now a white supremacist. Or, at least, he is if you ask the Anti-Defamation League or anyone else who hasn’t turned on a computer since the days of dial-up connections and floppy discs.

Pepe is a meme that started on 4chan, but was originally in a comic series called “Boys Club” by Mattie Furie. Later, he was adapted by users on the site as a reaction image and thus, a meme was born.

Memes are just the internet’s version of an inside joke, which people that aren’t in-the-know are left out of, which means the ADL is essentially that one friend that became upset when you and your best friend started giggling at the word “Pepe.”

Or rather, Hillary Clinton’s campaign team is.

In a misguided website post, her team claimed that Donald Trump was sharing the Pepe meme because it represents white supremacy.

However, no one questioned the intentions behind this seemingly innocuous frog until her website brought awareness to the fact that Pepe has been used by white supremacist groups.

The fact that Pepe can be used in the favor of these groups is no statement on him. The purpose and the fun of a meme is that its versatile nature makes it applicable in a variety of different situations.

This sad-looking frog can be used as the butt of millions of relatable Twitter jokes, or drawn on coffee shop chalkboards. Pepe’s very existence is the only criterion that it met to be used by such hate groups.

While there are hate groups using the image of Pepe, he is also used by internet trolls.

Trolls thrive off of offending people on the internet, so taking something innocent and turning it into something vile is basically their job.

Unfortunately, because of this, Pepe became caught up in the Clinton/Trump crossfire, and now he’s a racist.

More important than the misunderstanding and misuse of memes, is the large grey area of the legal implications of online activity.

There is virtually no legislation or legal precedence that controls day-to-day usage of the internet.

As a result, in countries that allow it, people have been able to say whatever they want however they want to.

There have been bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act that have pushed for more control over the flow of information online.

SOPA and PIPA were met with hard resistance from many online platforms that were reluctant to let vague statutes be the new standard of right and wrong.

Freedom of speech is crucial to the new culture that has been ushered in by the internet. Businesses, politicians, musicians – and pretty much everyone else – use the internet to collect data and criticisms from their audiences.

So it’s amazing that no one in power seems to understand the importance of ensuring that freedom of speech continues to exist there.

People have cried out that Pepe’s new label is an attack on freedom of speech and, in a very strange way, it is.

What started out as Clinton’s campaign team grasping at straws has somehow morphed into stigmatizing an image to prevent its spread.

Clearly, Pepe is not in the same league as a swastika or the Confederate flag, but the ADL has stepped in and made it so that they are all on the same level.

The ADL has clarified that most Pepe memes are innocent and not considered a hate symbol.

So, why, if the majority of Pepe drawings are innocent, would they need to be labeled this way at all? None of this makes any sense.

As far as I’m concerned, this whole ordeal has been pretty much pointless. The inconsequential Pepes are still out there, floating around and circulating amongst friends and followers.

If there is anything of any importance at all that has come out of this, it’s the room for conversation.

There is a lot to be discussed on the topic of Freedom of Speech on the internet.

No one would have ever thought that it would take a miserable little frog to drum up enough controversy to talk about it.

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