Hand Gesture Co-Opted by Hate Group

By Bree Seitz

OK hand gesture now seen as hate symbol used by white supremacists according to recent research.

The Anti-Defamation League recently added the OK hand gesture along with 34 other hate symbols to the Hate on Display Hate Symbols Database. This database contains 214 listings frequently used by white supremacists and other hate groups.

According to the ADL website, “A common hand gesture that a 4chan trolling campaign claimed in 2017 had been appropriated as a symbol meaning ‘white power’. Used by many on the right—not just extremists—for the purpose of trolling liberals, the symbol eventually came to be used by actual white supremacists as well. Caution must be used in evaluating instances of this symbol’s use.”

The symbol dates to early 17th century in Great Britain when the gesture was used to signal consent, approval or well-being, according to ADL’s website. Since early 1800s, the gesture was associated with the word OK and hence has taken on that meaning. Things have changed.

According to ADL’s report released Oct. 17, 2019, “Social-media platform designs enable online harassment as trolls often carry out coordinated attacks on a target by leveraging key platform features.” The anonymous nature of posting online also allows personal networks to weaponize simple symbols like this.

“It came to me at total shock when I read an article published about the new meaning of the hand gesture,” said College of Southern Nevada student Haley Hull, frequent user of the emoji hand gesture. “No matter the reach of this gesture we should pay attention to how it’s used and take this opportunity to educate ourselves about hate gestures and the groups that support these signs of hate.”

“ADL’s Center on Extremism continues to track an ever-growing number of white-supremacist propaganda efforts including the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic fliers, stickers, banners and posters,” according to its website. “The 2018 data shows a 182% increase of incidents from the previous year, with 1,187 cases reported, compared to 421 in 2017.”

Isaiah Robinson, CSN student who is an active user of social media, said, “I immediately thought about how the old online meme Pepe the Frog became appropriated to an alt-white hate symbol. I prefer to do my own research and once I realized it was linked to 4chan I decided not to give it much mind. They are notorious for creating large-scale internet hoaxes. That being said, fast-moving meme culture can change the way that an image or even moment is perceived over time.”

CSN student Miguel Navarro, social media user, said, “Topics like these catch like wildfire on platforms like Twitter.” Spreading awareness about the hate gesture can counteract the negative meaning by muffling the noise of the hate. It may not destroy it, but awareness could weaken the reach of its new meaning, he added.

Hull said, “Although this has been a popular topic in recent months, I believe the majority of the population will continue to use the OK gesture in its most innocent form.”


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