September 30, 2019
It used to be an innocent gesture meaning “fine and dandy.” Now it refers to something much more sinister. In fact, the “OK” hand signal is among 36 new entries in the Anti-Defamation League’s “Hate on Display” database.
On September 26, NPR reports, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, added the index finger-to-thumb sign to its hate list because, the organization says, in some corners of the Internet has become associated with white supremacy and the far right.
Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told NPR in an interview that, for years—on fringe online message boards such as 4chan and 8chan—the “OK” sign has been deployed in memes and other images promoting hate. Given the number of white supremacists who have adopted it, he said it can now carry a nefarious message.
“Context is always key,” Segal said. “More people than not will use the OK symbol as just ‘OK.’ But in those cases where there’s more underlining meaning, I think it’s important for people to understand that it could be
According to the website Know Your Meme, as a prank, 4chan users in 2017 launched a campaign to flood social media with posts linking the “OK” hand gesture to the white power movement. Commenters on the message board appropriated images of people posing in the White House and other locations making the hand symbol as proof that it was catching on.
Segal told NPR that, today, while many of those images were misconstrued by users on the online message boards, the number of people espousing hate while using the gesture has grown so widespread that it can no longer be considered a prank.
The ADL established its “Hate on Display” database in 2000 as a way to help track hate groups and their symbols for law enforcement, educator,s and other members of the public. Since then, the database has grown to include 214 entries.
One of the more prominent additions to the database, back in September 2016, was Pepe the Frog, the big-eyed green cartoon that became a kind of mascot of the alt-right.
Other symbols among the 36 added on Thursday include “Dylann Roof’s Bowlcut,” a reference to the haircut worn by the white supremacist gunman who killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Followers of Roof have incorporated the distinctive haircut into screen names such as “Bowltrash” or “The Final Bowlution” or collectively have referred to themselves as the “Bowl Gang,” according to the ADL.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said in a statement that old symbols, gestures and other images are rapidly acquiring new, hateful associations that may be too obscure for the general public to understand.
“We believe law enforcement and the public needs to be fully informed about the meaning of these images, which can serve as a first warning sign to the presence of haters in a community or school,” he said, according to NPR.
Research contact: @NPR