Memes, dumb internet jokes that are usually good for a LOL, are now actively being used as passive-aggressive, tacitly racist, international relations power plays. On Monday morning, the official Twitter account for the Russian Embassy to the United Kingdom tweeted out a picture of Pepe the Frog, a green webcomic character that has been co-opted by white nationalists.
“In today’s papers: pundits call on @Theresa_May to disrupt possible Russia-US thaw,” the tweet reads, along with a picture of the amphibian looking especially smug. “No trust in Britain’s best friend and ally?”
This is a big deal (side note: how crazy is it that this is a big deal?) because Pepe has come to represent at lot of disreputable — some might say deplorable — views, and an official envoy of the Russian government is using his image.
Pepe was originally created by cartoonist Matt Furie for his totally not-racist webcomic, but the frog was adopted by the dark meme-lords of 4chan, and from there, by white nationalists who supported Donald Trump’s presidency. Due to Pepe’s newfound association with racist, sexist, and abusive content posted largely by trolls hiding behind egg avatars on Twitter, Pepe was labeled hate speech by the Anti-Defamation League. To put it another way: Pepe the Frog isn’t necessarily a neo-Nazi himself, but neo-Nazis sure as hell love Pepe the Frog.
It’s reasonable to assume that the Russian government employee who was manning the Russian Embassy to the UK’s Twitter account knew exactly what Pepe represented. Russia has been following the 2016 election very, very closely, in case you didn’t hear. Chances are whoever hit send knew exactly which people were going to understand the meaning behind Pepe. Russia knows its audience, and it knows which memes they like. And, unlike Wendy’s, Russia didn’t delete it.
(If they didn’t mean to tap into Pepe’s poorly coded message, they could’ve chosen literally any other meme in the world to accompany the tweet.)
This isn’t the first time the Russian Embassy to the UK has used memes on its official Twitter account. In late December they tweeted out a shitty meme of a duckling with the word “lame” on top of it, because Barack Obama is a lame duck president at this point.
You know what? I’ll take the cute duck over the racist cartoon frog.