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4chan users are in a panic this week at the prospect that cartoonist Matt Furie, original creator of Pepe the Frog, may have sold the beloved character to the television network Adult Swim. Pepe has been a beloved icon on 4chan for about a decade now, and when the site turned into a hub for the white-nationalist alt-right and the Donald Trump movement, the frog became an icon for those, as well. It’s understandable they’d be upset, but the sale is just a bogus rumor. Looks like 4chan’s being taken for a ride by some classic “fake news.”
This week, /pol/ was pushing an InfoWars story, attributed to MSNBC, that appears to be a Photoshopped fraud. A search for stories about Adult Swim and Pepe on both Infowars and MSNBC didn’t turn up the article; neither did Googling the headline. And then there’s its grammar, which is atrocious even for InfoWars.
But the commenters on /pol/ are acting like they believe it and making plans as if they’re really outraged. There’s talk of getting the Pepe show canceled by telling Adult Swim—which is owned by Turner Broadcasting—that Pepe is an “international hate symbol.” They’re vowing to keep memeing the frog even if he gets “cucked” by a TV network.
Some are raging at Furie for allegedly profiting from a character they feel wouldn’t be famous or valuable without the meme status 4chan granted him.
Some are even claiming the sale is a secret Jewish conspiracy by the Anti-Defamation League, the antisemitism watchdog group that in 2016 declared Pepe a symbol of bigotry.
“Yeah wasn’t [Adult Swim] decent? Do we wreck their shit now or wait?” one anonymous poster wondered.
There are several other fake stories on /pol/ “confirming” that Adult Swim has bought Pepe, purporting to come from outlets like BuzzFeed and “Rebel News”:
Why would /pol/ want people to believe that Adult Swim is buying Pepe, when that doesn’t appear to be true? The title of one of the Pepe threads offers a possible explanation: “FUUUUUU!! BOYCOTT ADULT SWIM. THEY JUST BOUGHT PEPE.”
Adult Swim pissed off the white supremacist alt-right and Donald Trump supporters when it canceled Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, a controversial comedy series by right-leaning comedian Sam Hyde. Hyde claimed his show was axed because he and the other members of Million Dollar Extreme had voted for Trump, and that “comedians these days … are expected to toe an ideological line.”
So, the alt-right hates Adult Swim, and the alt-right’s antisemitic elements hate it even more, because one catalyst for the cancelation of World Peace was that actor Brett Gelman, who is Jewish, left the network partly because of the show.
But the average pleb on 4chan, who might identify as a Trump fan and an opponent of “politically correct” culture, doesn’t necessarily hate Adult Swim. In fact, they’re in the target demographic—most are like the commenter who thought Adult Swim was “decent.” But if the network tried to take Pepe away from them, they might be convinced to “FUUUUUU!! BOYCOTT ADULT SWIM.”
And only a handful of the commenters seem to have spotted this as fake. In fact, they’re looking for ways that Adult Swim may have “cucked” itself with the alleged purchase.
Whatever the motive of the people who started the rumor—to target Adult Swim, or just to troll /pol/ and watch its denizens make fools of themselves—the Pepe sale is a perfect fake news story because of how plausible it is. Furie may not be selling his “Boys Club” comic right now, but he did land a non-Pepe-related pilot on Adult Swim in 2015. It was called “Doble Fried” and was centered around a group of carnival freaks, Variety reported at the time. That very slight connection, combined with 4chan’s general persecution complex and belief that powerful forces are working to take away everything they love—the 2014 GamerGate incident was perhaps the ultimate expression of this fear—is certainly enough to sell the story.
It’s even made its way out of 4chan and onto Reddit’s ‘meme economy’ forum, where users speculate about the rise and fall of popular memes. A handful of commenters there are making predictions about what the “sale” will do to Pepe’s value as a meme.
Neither Furie nor Adult Swim immediately responded to a request for comment on the rumors, but the only search results about the alleged sale point back to 4chan, and there’s been no official announcement on Adult Swim’s website or social media channels.
Chill out. Pepe isn’t going anywhere.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.