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Coinbase says ‘we screwed up’ after Pepe the Frog backlash

Coinbase says ‘we screwed up’ after Pepe the Frog backlash
Coinbase says 'we are sorry' after calling Pepe the frog an alt-right hate symbol in a newsletter

Coinbase Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal has taken to Twitter to apologise after the crypto exchange described Pepe the Frog as an alt-right “hate symbol.”

A May 10 emailed newsletter, also on the Coinbase website, provided an explanation of the Pepe memecoin and the background of Pepe the Frog. “Over time it has been co-opted as a hate symbol by alt-right groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League,” the newsletter read.

Onlookers pointed out that on its website, the Anti-Defamation League also states that “the majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted.”

‘We apologise to the community’

“We screwed up and we are sorry,” Grewal said in a tweet. “Yesterday, we shared an overview of the $pepe meme coin to provide a fact-based picture of a trending topic. This did not provide the whole picture of the history of the meme and we apologise to the community.”

The apology comes after severe backlash from the crypto community on Twitter. Pepe fans started using the Twitter hashtag #deletecoinbase.

“Totally avoidable internet culture error,” Neeraj K. Agrawal, director of communications at crypto advocacy group Coin Center, said in a tweet shortly after the newsletter was sent out via email. “Comms people should know that Pepe has been exonerated.”

The controversy comes after a meteoric run by the newly-launched Pepe-themed crypto token which soared to a market capitalisation of $678 million since its launch on April 14, according to CoinGecko data.

Pepe price chart

According to one Coinbase insider who spoke under condition of anonymity, the exchange’s communications team was responsible for the newsletter. “Twitter mob strong,” the person said. “Comms team gotta step up.”

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Coinbase had earlier responded to DL News’ request for comment by pointing out a disclaimer at the end of its newsletter.

“The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Coinbase or its employees,” the disclaimer read.

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Pepe the Frog is popular among many in the crypto space and wider online circles. The character was created by artist Matt Furie in 2005 as part of his Boy’s Club comic series.

Racist versions of Pepe

However, after gaining popularity on anonymous forums like 4chan, some users started to create racist versions of Pepe, blending the meme’s comic nature with fascist imagery to promote bigoted views.

In 2016, Furie teamed up with the Anti-Defamation League to launch a #SavePepe campaign to reclaim the meme from its co-opters. Pepe has since been used in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as a symbol of resistance against authoritarianism.

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Other crypto exchanges have leaned into the Pepe mania and listed the memecoin for trading. On May 6, the biggest centralised exchange Binance listed Pepe, then on May 9, crypto exchange Gemini, run by the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame, also listed Pepe for trading.

It’s unclear if Coinbase will join Binance, Gemini, and other exchanges in listing the Pepe token.