ITHACA, N.Y. — Tweets promoting the cryptocurrency “Pepe Coin” began appearing on New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles’ (D- Ithaca) Twitter account after it was hacked on Monday morning.
Kelles told The Ithaca Voice that the posts began to appear on her Twitter account immediately after she testified on cryptocurrency mining before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives over Zoom, leading her to believe that the hack was targeted and coordinated.
“It literally came out just after my testimony ended,” said Kelles.
Pepe Coin uses the image of a widely-recognized internet meme known as Pepe the Frog, which is often associated with racist and antisemitic messages. Kelles and her staff were able to remedy the situation by mid Monday afternoon.
The tweets from hackers on Kelles’ account have garnered thousands of likes and retweets, far outstripping the normal level of engagement that Kelles’ personal account normally sees on Twitter. This has led Kelles to suspect that the hackers are using bots to promote their posts.
The Pepe Coin has seen an over 200% increase in its value in the last week according to CoinGecko, a platform which aggregates data on cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies are notorious for their price volatility and susceptibility to “pump and dump” schemes.
Pepe the Frog, also as known as the “Sad Frog” meme, originated as a character in an online comic book, and would develop into a popular and goofy internet meme once used to make quirky jokes. But, while once used for good humor online, it would become appropriated by internet communities to promote hate-laden messages. The Anti-Defamation League designated Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol in 2016.
The meme being spread on her Twitter page has aggravated and upset Kelles. “Anyone who knows me, anyone who’s followed my feed at all, would immediately look at this and know it was such an extreme farce. And they obviously chose the most offensive coin possible.”
“We clearly have people out there who just have no morals left, just none whatsoever,” said Kelles. “But this is comical to them — something that is racist and undermining of anyone and anything is so deeply disheartening and sad.”
But as much as the situation is aggravating, Kelles is also taking it as a sign that her work to elevate concerns around the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining is having an impact. In New York State, Kelles has cemented herself as one of the leading voices on the issue. She successfully led the charge to enact a state-wide moratorium to temporarily ban new permits being issued to fossil fuel plants supporting cryptocurrency mining operations, which Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law last year.
The hack “validated that they are scared,” said Kelles.
Kelles said, “The size of their fragile egos is about as big as the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining.”
Update: This story was updated after New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles regained control of her Twitter account to include that information.