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Pepe coin and the incredible folly of meme tokens

A protester in Hong Kong holds origami hearts with a depiction of Pepe.
Though Pepe has been embraced by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, the character means something entirely different in the crypto world.
Mohd Rasfan—AFP/Getty Images

“Pump the frog!” is the newest rallying cry to ricochet around the crypto sphere as shills exhort each other to purchase a token called Pepe. Named for the cartoon frog of popular culture, the coin launched a few weeks ago and soared to a market cap of over $1.6 billion last weekend before dropping off precipitously. It’s all so stupid I don’t know where to begin.

For starters, Pepe coin doesn’t do anything. It’s a meme coin like Dogecoin or Shiba Inu, and there are trillions of them in circulation, each worth tiny fractions of a penny. Its cultural significance is as muddled as the broader Pepe meme, which began as a friendly cartoon frog before it was appropriated by alt-right losers, then reappropriated into the mainstream by the artist and his allies, and later adopted by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In the crypto sphere, Pepe coin’s significance appears to begin and end with “pump the frog.”

It’s a free country, and people are welcome to squander their money in frivolous ways, whether it be at the roulette table or in buying ill-advised penny stocks. You do you. Still, episodes like Pepe coin—which is falling through the floor as I write this on Monday night—bother me.

The reason is that these projects feel predatory. Crypto bros get together and churn out a variety of Pepe-coin-like tokens and then pump them on social media in hopes one of them catches on with less sophisticated buyers. While some of those buyers are doing it just for the lulz, and others are trying to flip the tokens to a greater fool just like the creators are, more than a few people out there bought Pepe coin in the belief it’s a bona fide investment. This is foolish, of course, but as Charles Schwab’s daughter recently told Fortune, a large number of people are financially illiterate—and to her credit, she is out there trying to educate them, rather than prey on them like the Pepe coin bros.

I also dislike Pepe coin because the crypto industry is struggling with a massive reputation problem post-FTX and episodes like “pump the frog” only reinforce the popular prejudice that crypto is just for charlatans and idiots. At a time when the industry is trying to rebuild, Pepe coin is the last thing it needs.

To end on a different and happier note, I tried out Twitter competitor Bluesky over the weekend, and while the interface is still clunky, the vibe is great, and unlike its Musk-owned competitor, the newcomer seems to care about its users. Thanks to those of you who emailed with your thoughts about Bluesky and to a pal who sent an invite code. Hope to see more of you on there soon.

Jeff John Roberts


The U.S. division of Bittrex, a once-influential Bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy weeks after being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission. (CoinDesk)

The CEO of Ripple disclosed that the company has already spent $200 million defending itself in a high-profile SEC lawsuit. (CNBC)

A review of Solana’s new smartphone highlights its dApp store and private key security features but suggests it is not exactly a must-buy even for crypto enthusiasts. (Fortune)

Crypto prices dropped across the board, likely weighed down by a selloff of Bitcoin meme coins and resulting network congestion. (Bloomberg)

Two countries beset with runaway inflation, Turkey and Argentina, have the highest rate of crypto ownership, amounting to 27% and 24%, respectively. (Reuters)


Thanks for the good times, Pepe:

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