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Head-banging purple dove is the hottest thing online

How a simple sticker became an instant meme and a sobering lesson on child trafficking

DOVE FLIES HIGH

This bird is trash… and it's wildly popular, appearing all over social feeds.

The head-banging purple bird, which swings its head wildly, is Trash Dove, a Facebook sticker made by American artist Syd Weiler, that is fast gaining ground in Asia.

Ms Weiler first sketched the cartoons last September while streaming live on video platform Twitch, after Apple announced it was implementing stickers for messaging on the iOS. Her inspiration came from sitting by a pond with her feathered friends earlier that day, she said.

Last month, she created a set of stickers of the dove, in various poses, for Facebook. "Go spam your friends and enemies," she said in a tweet on Feb 1.


The Trash Dove, a purple bird created by an American artist, has been incorporated by make-up artists in their makeovers. PHOTO: NIKKI BRUISES/TWITTER

But the bird's popularity only started soaring in Asia earlier this month after Thai Facebook page Sudlokomteen posted a parody video, in which a cat dances and morphs with the dove. The slightly crude 22-second video has racked up about five million views so far.

Since then, social media users have been using the sticker in place of constructive comments. It is often a substitute for a thumbs up.

The stickers are also available on messaging service Telegram.

There is no logical reason why a hyperactive bird should suddenly become one of the hottest things online, but its prominence has also drawn unwanted attention.

The "alt-right" movement, a group of people who embrace far-right ideologies, are trying to appropriate the meme as their own, and are photoshopping the dove on other images, such as photos of Hitler and swastikas.

This is something that Ms Weiler, of course, disapproves of.

Entrepreneurial fans are also cashing in.

A Taiwanese company has made a toy of the bird. Cosplayers are donning pigeon costumes and taking to the streets. Make-up artists are incorporating Trash Dove into their makeovers. It is also available on outfits for people and animals.

Ms Weiler says she is honoured that her work has taken off in such a big way. In a recent video, she says she hopes the doves would be a symbol of positivity.


Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling labelled PewDiePie a fascist over his anti-Semitic videos. PHOTO: J.K. ROWLING/ TWITTER

PEWDIEPIE FIGHTS BACK

YouTube star PewDiePie, who has more than 53 million followers on his channel, has hit back at traditional media outlets for taking his videos out of context.

This follows Walt Disney's Maker Studios cutting ties with PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, for anti-Semitic content.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that since August, Kjellberg had posted nine videos with anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery.

In one case, he compared a YouTube policy to a Hitler speech. In another, through a website called Fiverr, which lets you pay people to do things, he had people holding up signs that read "Death to All Jews".

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling labelled him a fascist in a tweet.

Kjellberg has since taken some of the videos down.

As one of YouTube's highest- paid stars, he reportedly made US$15 million (S$21.3 million) last year from his videos.

In an 11-minute video that has been watched more than 8.2 million times since it was released last Thursday, Kjellberg says that "the media generally doesn't like us very much".

"Old school media does not like Internet personalities because they are scared of us," he adds. "We have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don't think they understand us."

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Kjellberg apologised for his anti- Semitic content, saying that he wanted to demonstrate the absurdity of how easy it was to pay people to spread hate.

"I do strongly believe that you can joke about anything, but I also believe that there's a right way and not the best way to joke about things. I love to push boundaries, but I would consider myself a rookie comedian and I've definitely made mistakes like this before," he says.

Kjellberg's modus operandi has been likened to the actions of United States President Donald Trump, who frequently rails against mainstream media for dishonesty.

A report by The Verge said both men paint themselves as the victims of cruel media.

"Attacking the media is a rhetorical tactic that encourages fans… but it's also a real battle over the control of information. Mr Trump and PewDiePie both make the point that they don't need the mainstream press any more. The Internet has liberated them to be media entities unto themselves," the report said. As a result, Trump supporters have been subscribing to Kjellberg's channel as a sign of support.

PREVENTING CHILD TRAFFICKING

24 hours. That's how long it takes for a sex trafficker to whisk away a kid from the time they meet online.

This alarming information was revealed by Ms Cathie Bledsoe, a youth educator with the Indiana State Police in the US, in a report published last week.

Ms Bledsoe told Wish-TV that social media has made it much easier for predators to connect with their victims as they are able to monitor the kinds of posts a young person makes.

"Traffickers look for naive children who are needy. If they are talking about their sad mood, that's a kid I can recruit. I can make them feel better. Oh, you want to be a model? I can help you be a model," Ms Bledsoe explained.

And it's not just the popular platforms that traffickers target. With the proliferation of social media apps, traffickers are spoilt for choice. It could be lesser- known services such as Kek, Yik Yak or ChatRoulette.

"Every day, there are new apps, new ways predators can get to our children," she said.

She recommends that parents kick-start regular conversations with their children about new apps they might be using. This should be done in a non-confrontational manner.

"Start asking your kids to teach you about them," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Head-banging purple dove is the hottest thing online'. Print Edition | Subscribe