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Debunked: Why Overwatch Fell for 4Chan’s OK Hand Gesture Prank

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Blizzard Entertainment have been discouraging competitive Overwatch fans from making the OK hand gesture, due to its false association with white power thanks to a 4Chan prank.

E-sports consultant Rod Breslau tweeted on April 5th that during an Overwatch League event a fan was discouraged from making an OK hand gesture. This was due to its “association as a white power symbol.” Breslau also retweeted a first-hand account from a friend of the fan. The fan would later apologize himself on Twitter.

The OK hand gesture is typically associated with simply to communicate “all is well”, in a way that transcends borders and language barriers. It also ties into “the circle game”- in which you trick someone into looking at your hand making that gesture, typically below the belt.

Around April 2015, the symbol also curiously came to represent then Presidential nominee Donald Trump. In a now deleted Vine, content creator and conservative “Pizza Party Ben” posted a video with the description “white guys be like”. The video itself had him making the OK hand gesture and saying “we should chill”.

He and political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos would later use the symbol at Trump rallies and his election night party as a show of support. Even Malik Obama (half-brother to former US President Barak Obama) tweeted his support for Trump by showing the OK hand gesture. The image is no longer accessible, but can be found here via KnowYourMeme.

On February 13th 2017, Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft tweeted a picture of him with White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich making the OK hand gesture. Media Matters later reported this as “displaying a hand signal associated with the racist “Pepe” meme. The tweet itself also included the hashtag “Pepe” and a frog emoji, commonly understood to invoke the hate symbol.”

For those unfamiliar Pepe the frog was a character in Boy’s Club, a 2005 comic about teenage monsters. A snippet of one of these comics where Pepe says “Feels Good Man” quickly spread among forums and message boards, and resulted in thousands upon thousands of edits and variations- as is the nature of internet memes becoming transformation.

The character was deemed a hate symbol when Trump used one in a now deleted tweet and The Daily Beast claimed Pepe had now become “a Nazi Trump Supporter and Alt-Right Symbol.” This was based off information provided by “@JaredTSwift” and “@PaulTown_”, who both would later admit to pranking The Daily Beast with false information and offensive Pepe memes created by 4Chan sub-domain /r9k/ specifically as part of the prank.

The Daily Beast’s proposal that every image of Pepe was now shorthand for supporting one ideology because of how they believed one person used it simply did not add up. In theory, anyone with reasonable image editing skills could create a Pepe meme. As such, anyone of any political belief or race could create their own “Pepe”.

This alarmist article only increased the number of Pepe images designed by Trump supporters, specifically to irritate and infuriate those who they felt were becoming hysterical in their disapproval of Trump. After Hoft’s tweet, the inclusion of the OK hand gesture was also used by some to further mock those who truly believed it represented anything malicious. On September 26th, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) considered Pepe a hate symbols. Some schools even began warning children on the dangers of Pepe and what it “truly” represented.

On February 27th 2017, the users of 4chan’s /pol/ board (a board for political discussion) began to create a prank. They held the belief that many mainstream media websites had a hard left-wing political bias, as did many of Trump’s detractors. The /pol/ users believed that they would latch onto any sensationalist story about symbols for nazis or white supremacists without fact-checking. They proposed the idea of making the OK hand gesture a symbol for white power. 

When people then fell for the deception, they would appear foolish. Users also believed that those who believed it would go as far as to think others who tried to explain it was a lie or the context of a situation was attempting to cover-up the “secret symbol”. This would further reinforce their paranoia, making them appear deranged and unreasonable- until others rejected their way of thinking and even their political beliefs.

The plan was to create fake online profiles on social media, spreading the idea that the OK hand gesture represented white power. When done with the right hand, three fingers form a W while the thumb, forefinger and arm form the P. W and P for White Power. They also suggested finding public figures who had been accused of racism (such as actor Mel Gibson) making that gesture to further re-enforce the lie.

On April 28th 2017 (almost two months after the inception of the plan), Fusion reporter Emma Roller tweeted that reporter Cassandra Fairbanks and political commentator Mike Chernovich had made a “white power” hand gesture in the White House press room. Roller would later tweet out the exact same image that 4Chan users had created for exactly this purpose. This resulted in Fairbanks and Chernovich having their White House press passes revoked.

Despite many articles already debunking the myth some proposed that even if it had started as a joke, some claimed it was now genuinely being used by those with far-right wing political beliefs; including the ADL. This resulted many individuals being falsely accused of supporting white supremacists; including a coast-guard, an attorney, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a Chicago Cubs baseball fan, and 18 highschool students resulting in a school yearbook having to be reprinted for $53,000.

Now Blizzard Entertainment have helped reinforce the lie. Whether the gesture is being used by white supremacists or not, reinforcing that they are spreads the idea to do so among them, while stripping away anyone else from using it for fear of being accused of something they did not do.

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Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.