In an effort to take back Pepe the Frog from racists, creator of the meme Matt Furie and the Anti-Defamation League are teaming up with the social media campaign #SavePepe.
The ADL designated Pepe a hate symbol in late September after a spike in offensive transformations of the frog — many of which were created and spread by the alt-right — the name given to followers of a collection of right-wing ideologies that condemn mainstream conservatism in the United States.
To combat the alt-right appropriation, Furie and the ADL will be promoting positive Pepes that will hopefully drown out all the hateful versions of the meme. But trying to reclaim a meme that has proliferated in countless forms will prove to be difficult, and it might make things worse.
It’s a valiant goal by Furie and the ADL to attempt repairing Pepe the Frog’s image. Meanwhile, there’s evidence that Pepe’s hate symbol status has done little to change the economy surrounding the meme, considering people continue to sell and wear Pepe merchandise. Even though there are groups of people spinning Pepe into their own bigoted agendas, plenty of other Pepes continue to exist. Seeking to control an internet being is practically impossible, because there will always be individuals undermining this authority in some shape or form (or remix of Pepe). Perhaps the best plan of action was just to let Pepe ride it out until the election was over.
Also, Furie and the ADL publicly trying to change the course of Pepe appears to have agitated their enemies. The hashtag #SavePepe — which was created to promote new positive Pepes from Furie — has been taken over the groups that have been transforming the frog into hostile remixes. A quick glance at images tweeted with the hashtag include many of the Pepes that Furie and ADL are trying to fight against.
On Friday, Furie penned a post about Pepe for TIME writing, “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. It’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.” And on Monday, The Nib published a new Pepe comic strip from Furie titled “Pepe the Frog: To Sleep, Perchance to Meme” illustrating his “alt-right election nightmare.”
It’s understandable that Pepe’s creator is trying to save the meme after such insidious groups have used him to spread their hate. But trying to claim ownership over a meme once its in the Wild, Wild Web doesn’t work because there will always be other people creating their own version of it. And once they feel threatened, they’ll surely fight Pepes with Pepes.