While the hand symbol for ‘OK’ is widely recognized and used by many, it could be something we should avoid in this day and age. According to the Anti-Defamation League, it is frequently used as a symbol for hate.
The ADL states on its website that we should use caution when it comes to this symbol and take into consideration those who are using it to determine what meaning is being intended. It seems to have taken on its negative meaning thanks to a hoax stemming from the website 4chan. This hoax claiming that the symbol that resembles a ‘W’ and a ‘P’ actually stood for ‘white power’ rather than ‘OK.’
Ironically, some white supremacists themselves soon also participated in such trolling tactics, lending an actual credence to those who labeled the trolling gesture as racist in nature. By 2019, at least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy, such as when Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant flashed the symbol during a March 2019 courtroom appearance soon after his arrest for allegedly murdering 50 people in a shooting spree at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
That all having been said, the symbol as it stands more often than not does actually mean ‘OK.’ This goes to show anything can be turned into a symbol of hate if the intent behind it is overtly negative. Something meant as a mere ‘trolling’ joke online in the wrong hands can become much more than what intended.
NPR who spoke with Oren Segal director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism reported as follows on the topic:
Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told NPR 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 used, and is being used, for hate as well.”
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 said that 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.
What do you think about all of this? I for one think it is mindblowing how things can change so drastically. I guess things are not always as simple as we assume they are.