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I recently answered a question (https://math.stackexchange.com/a/2688726/124095). After posting my answer and responding to a question from the OP in the comments, I noticed that the OP's avatar was a notorious cartoon frog that has been co-opted in the past two years by neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups. As the child of a Holocaust survivor, this upset me (to put it mildly), and I called the OP out for it. He responded politely, but (I think) disingenuously, and has since changed his avatar to something less offensive.

I'm wondering whether I was out of line. Obviously this site is not meant to be a place to discuss politics, current events, and memes. But if someone used an openly offensive avatar (say, a swastika or a KKK hood) I think that would be some kind of violation of community norms, right?

I don't want to start a fight here but I really would like feedback on whether my comments were appropriate.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not immersed completely in the internet culture to gauge this precisely. But AFAIK, the history (if we can call it that) of that frog as an internet element is very convoluted. With that context in mind (and the comments), I think that the usage of that image in this site probably means that the user is juvenile and/or careless, but certainly it does not imply necessarily that he affiliates with the groups you mentioned. Maybe implying that so profusely so immediately was out of line, and a simple request would be appropriate. From the response of said request, you could get more context. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Mar 13 '18 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ This was the first time I heard of this cartoon frog. I had never seen or heard of it before. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 13 '18 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ I also think that nationalities may play a role here. As I understand, the frog has been used even specifically in the presidential politics in US. Therefore, the context may be a little too distant for those of us which are not from US. I can be wrong about this, but the frog is not very relevant where I live. I mostly perceive it as a foreign element and background noise on the internet. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Mar 13 '18 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ I've heard of the cartoon frog meme, but my advice is to take the user (who changed their avatar) at their word rather than assume the polite response was disingenuous. Bigotry does exist, and we should be alert to efforts to propagate it, but giving strangers the benefit of the doubt has its advantages. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Mar 13 '18 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ If you're talking about Pepe, then yes, any implication that this frog is somehow associated with Nazism is out of line. I have never, not once, seen that frog associated with Nazism. On the other hand, I see it used again and again as a generic meme image with no political message whatsoever. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) there was a coordinated effort to deliberately make a news outlet report this connection as a criticism of how the media will repeat what they hear without verifying the facts. Looks like you've done the same. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Myridium This is absurd. I have personally seen dozens if not hundreds of memes showing Pepe operating gas chambers, wearing Nazi armbands, etc. Even Pepe's creator acknowledges that his character has been co-opted and ruined by the alt-right. Pretending that hasn't happened is willful ignorance. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 13 '18 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ I spend time on US Twitch channels and I haven't even seen that. I strongly suspect that such use is by insensitive individuals who are making fun of the fact that people think it is a political symbol. Nobody uses that cartoon frog in a non-ironic sense. Now it is fair to be upset at people making fun of this matter, but this image existed long before any political affiliation was imagined, and has been the regular emoticon for "Feels Bad Man" for years as I recall. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see the relevance of the first link. Not surprising that if I google "X Y" I will find X with features of Y. You could probably do the same for any meme image. When I google "homer nazi" I see drawings of Homer from the Simpsons with Nazi features. Welp, I guess The Simpsons is one big alt-right political campaign then, even when its content is devoid of political imagery. I don't have any comment on that second link. I acknowledge that some affiliation exists, however it started with no such affiliation, and many people use it as a generic meme image with no political message.Hysteria $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ You said "I have never, not once, seen that frog associated with Nazism." I sent you a link with hundreds of them. Frankly your entire argument seems to me in bad faith. When I, as a Jew, receive a message telling me that I am going to be sent to the ovens, accompanied by a cartoon image of Pepe operating a gas chamber, the claim that people are being "ironically racist" is, if you will excuse the language, bullshit. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 13 '18 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ Did the OP tell you that you would be sent to the ovens? I thought they simply had an image of a frog as their avatar. For more information about the meme, see here. The image was popularised in 2008 as a symbol for "Feels Good Man". The first political association of any kind was in 2015 when someone drew an image of this frog with Trump hair, presumably to mock him, not to support him! $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ If the image is not containing any objectionable nazi angle, then there is no reason to remove the image. I've also seen spongebob images containing nazi symbols too. But yes if it contained nazi imagery then it's absolutely condemnable. We cannot associate all Pepe frog images with Nazism. $\endgroup$ – King Tut Mar 13 '18 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry but this is truly the first time I have heard of this image having any political affiliation. Apart from a few days ago, when I heard something vaguely about it. It is difficult for me to accept that a symbol I have used for years for innocuous expression of emotions "Feels Bad Man" or "Feels Good Man" has been somehow corrupted by negative connotations. From my perspective it is in the same vein as how the Japanese Manji character was corrupted by the Nazi Swastika. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ And I respect that argument. I agree that what matters is its current meaning. However I disagree on the current meaning because, as you say, I'm not from the US. Do not forget that the US is one of many nations which has access to this site. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that the frog meme has a long history of use in non-political contexts before the alt-right started using it (and that even then, it is more often a symbol of support for Donald Trump than of racism). I think it's a bit disingenuous to attribute all usage of the frog as an unequivocal sign of racism. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Mar 13 '18 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @mweiss Your comment reminds me of a news story a couple of years ago that some women named "Isis" were suffering from discrimination for their names' sake. Just because some highly vocal group has hijacked an image to mean something very, very bad should not be a valid ground to assume that any use of that image must be malicious, even if the user knows perfectly well what terrible connotation that image has. $\endgroup$ – user1551 Mar 13 '18 at 19:57
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I think there is a simple, non-radical solution to this problem. In fact, Math.SE has always been configured to deal with problems like this in a non-divisive way.

If you find something offensive and/or distracting from the main purpose of this site, then issue a flag. When you do this, a) you do not draw attention to the offensive and/or distracting thing and b) a moderator will quickly and quietly deal with the problem. In every case in which I have issued a flag for something offensive, a moderator has responded appropriately.

I do not think getting into fights with people in the comments section is generally speaking a good way to deal with people who revel in being offensive. If you engage with such trolls, then you have done their bidding and have spread poison throughout our site. The better way is to go through the channels that have been set up to deal specifically with the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 and my very limited experience with flags only corroborates what you say in second paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Mar 14 '18 at 7:22
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First of all I would note that by commenting with an explicit mention of political agenda, you were the one to initiate a discussion on politics, which is off-topic for the main site.

Additionally, I think that interpreting this "cartoon frog" as a symbol of hatred is an uncommon perception, and possibly a sign of ignorance of internet culture (the frog has a long history unassociated with politics, and continues to be used in this way today. This is discounting the fact that political associations were partly fabricated in a deliberate attempt to mock poor journalism practises). I believe that only if a symbol is universally recognised (or at least by the majority) as exceptionally offensive should it become part of our etiquette to remove it from sight in a public forum such as this.

For these two reasons, I believe that your comments were indeed out-of-line. An appropriate alternative would have been to post here on meta, asking whether it is acceptable for this person to have this avatar as their icon.

...to which my response is: I do not believe in a knee-jerk 'safe-space' reaction to any and all images which could be deemed offensive to any minority group; free speech is a necessary evil sometimes.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the claim that people used the symbol ironically, I think the Rule of Goats (twitter.com/Popehat/status/858722120620265473) applies. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 13 '18 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ @mweiss - I understand what you mean and I agree it is poor manners to use such symbols ironically. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @mweiss - I would like to apologise for saying that your reaction was "unjustified"-- this was insensitive of me. I do believe that your reaction is uncommon though, and while I'm sorry the incident has caused you distress, I don't believe this is a case where the OP can take the full blame. $\endgroup$ – Myridium Mar 13 '18 at 4:45
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    $\begingroup$ I agree to some extent with this post. The intention of person with profile and also how the frog is depicted, in what context, is important. All Pepe frog images cannot be branded as anti-Semitic. I haven't seen the image so I should not comment on the image in question. $\endgroup$ – King Tut Mar 13 '18 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree 100%. Math.SE should have no memes, should have no politics unrelated to math or the website, should be a safe-space. And, for the record, a privately owned website not allowing stupid frog memes or political speech is not infringing on anyone's free speech. And, finally, while this is not at all important, the frog meme has in fact, become a symbol of American neo-nazis and that is no longer an "uncommon perception." $\endgroup$ – Trevor Gunn Mar 13 '18 at 13:57
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The general line on usernames, avatars and the user profile in totaa is that as long as no one signals an issue they stay. (Of course if I happen to see something that I find highly problematic I would do something about it or signal it to another mod. What I mean to say is that no one screens user profiles for problems.)

However, as soon as somebody signals an issue, users not getting offended takes precedence over expressions of political views, humor, etc. (Of course there could be unreasonable requests, but it is not usually a problem.)

There could be some tricky cases, but mostly those are very rare, though not inexistent.

Thus if you see something that you find problematic, a good way to go about this is, as Ron said, to flag a post (not a comment) of the user in question or any post were they were active as "other" and to explain the issue.

Moderators can deal with the issue easily and discreetly as we can do the necessary edits ourselves.

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My first reaction was that you could have been a bit more casual at first; you sort of went from 0 to ... 4ish, let's say, out of 10 (on the other hand, you strike me as pretty mild-mannered; perhaps you cranked it all the way up to 11 there [insert "I kid, I kid" emoji]).

But you really only mentioned that it's become a symbol for some truly terrible people with whom you've personally had hostile (internet) dealings, and I certainly don't fault your reaction; I too would prefer all of that stays far away from MSE.

Personally, I think a reasonable response to you would have been, "Yikes, you're right, I didn't think of it that way!" (or something to that effect, conveying sheepishness) and left it at that, rather than debating how innocuous the image really is: Whatever its origin story, it has become politically charged as of late. I think defending Pepe the frog is a really stupid hill to die on.

So, in conclusion... no, I personally don't think you were out of line.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. If the OP had said "I'm so sorry, I didn't realize the image had become co-opted!" I would have been fine with it. It's the "Images don't mean anything, it's not my fault if other people use it that way" response that struck me as completely insincere and disingenuous. It is frankly right out of the 4chan playbook. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 13 '18 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. Attempting to be objective, again, it would probably be ideal to be a bit less accusatory with your initial reaction; this could easily lead to someone getting defensive, and then all bets are off. But, I also infer that the situation is personal for you, which does make me sympathetic to how you handled it (which, again again, I have a hard time calling inappropriate in any significant way). $\endgroup$ – pjs36 Mar 13 '18 at 4:28
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    $\begingroup$ @mweiss Even if they realize the image has become co-opted, why does that bar them from having it? Lots of buddhist and jainist temples still display a swastika, should they be shamed for doing so because someone stole it from them and committed atrocities? I am not talking about using the symbol ironically, maybe they are a legitimate fan of the artwork of matt furie? $\endgroup$ – TSF Mar 16 '18 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ As I said in the original comments (since deleted), and reiterated here, "What I have said (and keep saying) is that using a symbol that has been embraced by racists marks one, whether one likes it or not, as being on their team, and if one doesn't want that association one should not use that symbol, unless the intent is specifically to reclaim it or defang it of its connotations." If one is a Furie fan, understands the symbol has been co-opted, and wants to reclaim Pepe, then presumably one would use it not in a neutral way but in a way that intentionally pushes a counter-narrative. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 16 '18 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @TonyS.F. Most Buddhist and Jainist temples would disagree that their symbols meant nothing! The fact is, it means something to them, it certainly isn't the same as what the Nazis took it to mean, and it's not used for the purpose of inflaming old wounds. $\endgroup$ – Theo Bendit Mar 17 '18 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @TheoBendit I never argued that their symbols meant nothing? mweiss there are no 'teams', that's kind of childish. This exception that you make for "reclaiming or defaning" is totally subjective, you find this use distinction acceptable to yourself and believe everyone should conform to this standard. Being 'associated' to something in this context doesn't mean you approve of it or become a part of it. Someone can use a jainist swastika as their avatar without implicitly condoning nazism. It's nonsense what you're arguing. $\endgroup$ – TSF Mar 18 '18 at 18:38

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