Cold War-esque cyberattacks took on a distinctly modern flavor on Monday when certified “dank meme” Pepe the Frog was shared by the U.K. Russian Embassy in retaliation for an anti-Putin editorial in the British press.
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) January 9, 2017
Above, the tweet appears to refer to an opinion piece published in the Guardian by Nick Cohen on Monday. Although that particular author was not tagged in the post, Daniel Sandford, a Home Affairs Correspondent for BBC News who retweeted it, did make an appearance below the Pepe the Frog meme. He joined several other noted British journalists who cover Moscow.
In Cohen’s column, he sums up what he believes to be an ideological affinity between the far-right and Putin’s government in Russia. He argues that both are waging a war against the liberal world order and Islam, and urges current U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to avoid a “thaw in relations with Russia” that seems to be emerging in the U.S. and could easily translate to Europe if candidates like Marine Le Pen in France triumph next year.
“Whatever else you can say against Theresa May’s government, neither she nor her senior colleagues or civil servants want to follow Trump, Le Pen and [Nigel] Farage. When the Economist journalist Edward Lucas, who first warned of a new Cold War a decade ago, speaks in Whitehall these days the lecture rooms are packed. Meanwhile, MI6 is falling over itself in an effort to recruit Russian specialists and the Foreign Office, which once saw Russia as a lucrative market for British business, has finally woken up to the danger.”
One can’t be entirely sure what message the Russian Embassy had in mind when they chose this particular meme, but there are some important context clues. Not only did the official Twitter account tag President-elect Donald Trump, but a quick look through the rest of the account shows a concentrated effort to mock outgoing president Barack Obama’s hard-line against Russia in his final days in office.
President Obama expels 35???????? diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl???????? people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm. pic.twitter.com/mleqA16H8D
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) December 29, 2016
The Pepe the Frog meme became extremely controversial near the end of the 2016 presidential election cycle as it was heavily associated with supporters of Donald Trump, particularly those who frequented Reddit community r/the_Donald.
— ☁ (@codyave) October 13, 2015
Eventually, the meme began to take on a white supremacist flavor in some circles. Pepe the Frog was so often depicted in racist imagery — such as a Hitler mustache or a KKK hood — that the Jewish Anti-Defamation (ADL) eventually placed the cartoon amphibian on its list of hate symbols. Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL chief executive officer, released a statement noting that while the meme could still be used for non-racist purposes, it had also appeared in attacks against members of the Jewish community on social media.
“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users. These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”
Sarcasm behind the phrase “dank meme” itself is often missed by those out of the loop. On popular meme-cyclopedia site Know Your Meme, the term is defined as an “ironic expression used to describe online viral media and in-jokes that are intentionally bizarre or have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché.” Given that even the Russian Embassy appears to be in on the joke now, it seems that the Pepe the Frog meme likely qualifies.
[Featured Image by worldswildlifewonders/Shutterstock]