Inside the world of fake Peppa Pigs: "I don't believe daddy pig would do that"

Why has Peppa become an icon for Brexiteers, Islamophobes, and Satanists?

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“Don’t let her watch Peppa Pig on YouTube”, my aunt hisses as she leaves, “I read that there are some awful fake videos that aren’t for little eyes”.

“Pig”: The first word my two-year-old cousin mutters when she wakes up from her afternoon nap, raising her arms to be lifted from her cot so that she can access my mum’s iPad. I manage to distract the toddler with a tube of party bubbles and do a quick Google search for her favourite show to see if my aunt is overreacting. I soon discover exactly why the fake episodes are so disturbing – actually, they are for little eyes. Some Internet users are twisting the innocently vacuous children’s show into disturbing storylines and leaving them online under the guise of official episodes. The videos are designed to as closely resemble the art of the TV show as possible, hidden among the legitimate clips with nothing in their titles to distinguish them.

Most parents and childminders likely stumble across these videos when they directly search for Peppa on the YouTube app, but my broader Google search reveals a web-wide rabbit hole of disconcertingly NSFW (let alone for children) Peppa-labelled muck. Although poor Peppa has been embroiled in her share of scandals – such as last year’s phoney study that linked watching the show to increased rates of autism – they have been of a different ilk to the things I find.

There are Twitter accounts that incorporate Peppa into their handle, but post distressingly un-Peppa-related things – from the Islamophobic tweets of “Jihadi Peppa Pig” to the darkly sexual Spanglish ramblings of an account simply labelled “Peppa Pig”, but whose handle also includes the word “Satan”. Oddly, there are also marginally more mainstream accounts that are equally irrelevant to Peppa Pig, but willingly co-opt an image of the show’s protagonist – such as @DestroyTheEU whose followers include Ukip MEP David Coburn, who presumably did not judge the account by its unusual profile picture.

And then there's the fan fiction. The stories about Peppa and her little brother George are short and crude, and I'm not sure who their intended target audience is. In one tale, George turns to the devil to rid himself of Peppa, who wants him to become a sex slave. In another, Peppa has sacrificed their parents to Satan. Seemingly, Peppa Pig’s popularity has spawned a myriad of twisted “fan” tributes, designed to acquire Peppa-fans as subscribers irrespective of the target age of their audience.

What interests me about this phenomenon is that there does not seem to be a unified reason for why each person has settled on Peppa Pig as their best representative on the internet. Psychology academic Dr. Linda Kaye tells me that wholesome Peppa is akin to an authority figure to younger internet users, who might “follow” the familiar two-dimensional role model and end up accidentally finding themselves in a “vulnerable and unsuitable environment in which they may be persuaded by the messages of the community of the account”. This certainly seems like a rational explanation for “Jihadi Peppa Pig”, who told me that they had chosen their photo because Peppa is an “instantly recognisable character” and as a protest against "parts of the community" that they believe had attempted to get the show banned. It is unlikely that many younger viewers will understand the disconnect between the loveable pink character and tweets calling a fire breaking out at a Dunkirk migrant camp “brilliant news”.

Dr. Kaye explained that “younger people are arguably more vulnerable to persuasive and radical messages than adults, so these accounts may be deliberately setting up their accounts in this way to capture younger people with an intention for encouraging them to align their attitudes to that of the community”.

The account creator’s choice of icon is also possibly linked to last year’s repeated false reports than an Australian imam had called for the programme to be replaced with religious alternatives. In reality, the imam had riffed on the need for alternatives to Peppa Pig, the children’s sensation du jour, in order to endorse a “halal” Australian cartoon series. This did not stop many right-wing internet users jumping on the idea of Peppa as a figure of resistance. This could explain why the anti-EU account has also selected a Peppa Pig profile picture.

“Satan Peppa Pig” is less politically oriented. Aesthetically, it has disturbing and vaguely psychedelic imagery – Peppa has clown hair and a demonic mouth with extended tongue – so the odds that it is intended to trick children are slim. Its tweets, too, are overtly sexual and bizarre. Sometimes internet celebrities are told that the account holder “wants to be their slave”, other times similarly creepy accounts (like “Elmo EmoSexual”) are retweeted. A concerned mother tells me that portrayals like this are statements on the corruption of innocence by people who want to wage war on childhood, an explanation that seems even more likely when I stumble across a blog in which the writer claims to be party to a chilling secret – that all the Peppa Pig characters are based on dead children.

This kind of fan theory has been attributed to various shows, books, and films – potentially originating with Peter Pan. What makes this particular blog-post stand out is its insistence that the author was given this information by a Peppa Pig producer and its inclusion of gruesome details about how each character died. At first glance, it was written for gore-loving parents. Scrolling down, however, revealed young commenters desperately asking whether the story was true, and several writing that they were going to keep their younger siblings away from Peppa and her friends in future. One distressed response simply reads “I dont [sic] belive [sic] daddy pig would do that”.

While these are all compelling explanations for why some internet users are pushing the limits of things you can link to Peppa Pig, it is difficult to say for certain what their intentions actually are. Of the Twitter accounts to whom I reached out, only "Jihadi Peppa Pig" responded to my requests for quotes or an interview. The anti-EU account even went so far as to block me, following my research request for an article on Peppa Pig. Although there may be no way of controlling the NSFW Peppa Pig online explosion, one thing is clear: parents must keep little fans away from the internet or risk bacon their hearts.

Anjuli R. K. Shere writes about science. She was a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman.