Culture

Meet the K-Pop Stans Waging Cyberwar for Black Lives Matter

We spoke to some of the people using fancams of their idols to drown out right-wing hashtags and spam police callouts for video evidence.
12 June 2020, 8:15am
BTS performing at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at The Forum in Los Angeles
BTS performing at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at The Forum in Los Angeles. Photo: Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Wire

Despite leading an anti-fascist insurgency online, @ngelwy (who has asked to be referred to here as J) does not consider herself to be a political person. “I think that stuff isn’t really for me,” she writes over Twitter DM. “I’m just here to have fun, honestly.” J doesn’t associate racial justice and LGBTQIA+ rights – two things she is very much in favour of – with politics. She sees her activism as a separate entity, as well as something that’s just a bit of a no-brainer. “Everyone deserves a fair chance at life, it’s just the right thing.”

At the start of June, J’s Twitter account was one of several mobilising the charge against the Dallas Police Department’s iWatch app. Dallas police had set up iWatch in the hopes that its citizens would cooperate with them against the ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, and send in videos of protestors participating in what they deemed to be “illegal activity”. In other words: please do your bit to contribute to our already-terrifying surveillance state!

On Sunday afternoon, the Dallas police tweeted out a link to iWatch requesting that those looking to submit footage should do so via the app, and adding that users would be able to remain anonymous. This was, perhaps, their first mistake.

“If I told myself a month ago I'd be using my fancams to take down police websites, I wouldn’t have believed me for anything!” says J. In a matter of hours, the reporting app was defunct, overrun with fan-made video edits of K-pop superstars. “I just thought we could put what we do best towards a greater good.”

K-pop fans are notorious for their use (or abuse, depending on who you ask) of fancams online, hijacking popular hashtags or Twitter threads as a way of drawing attention to the talent of their favourite idols. K-pop fancams, for the uninitiated, refer to short fan-made videos often featuring one specific member of a band or supergroup singing or dancing. So, a pretty far throw from “illegal protest activity”.

As passionate as many of these fans are about their faves, K-pop stans online seem to have an equal devotion to leftist politics, social justice and humanitarian causes. When K-pop supergroup BTS announced a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter, their ARMY fanbase quickly organised a donation pool to match the figure, and came up with $1.1 million in just over a day. Back in December, the Chilean government blamed a significant portion of its citizens’ ongoing protests on discussions started and circulated by K-pop fans online.

“The K-pop community is very diverse, and for the most part we accept and support each other,” says Allie (@YGSHIT), a 16-year-old stan, explaining that individuals with leftist politics tend to increasingly be from the younger generations – millennials and Gen Z. “That just so happens to be the same age demographic for K-pop stans. We’re all pretty open about our views, and we mostly share the same outlook.” She adds, “Also a lot of us are gay, so.”

The overlap between stan and activist, as Allie explains, is not simply a coincidence. “I know locals kind of see a lot of us as toxic trolls, but K-pop fans have never shied away from speaking their minds, whether it’s about K-pop or global issues,” she says, noting that when the coverage of police brutality protests escalated on social media last week, there was a tacit agreement among fans to censor themselves on Twitter in order to prevent K-pop trends taking attention away from the discussion. “Obviously this account is a K-pop stan account, meaning I post and will continue to post about K-pop artists and the like, but I honestly don’t see why I can’t tweet about other things too.”

But besides having politics in common, the effective mobilisation of this many Twitter users came down to the fact that these fanbases are extremely well-organised. In addition to crashing the Dallas PD’s app and raising a huge amount of money for the Black Lives Matter movement last week, the stans directed their fancam barrage towards any trending right-wing hashtags (such as #MAGA, #bluelivesmatter, and #whiteoutwednesday), blocking information exchange between genuine users of the tags, and drowning out their hateful messages. That’s hacktivism for you, baby.

“I’ve done online actions before that have a similar idea behind them,” says Dominique (@yoonieorbit), a 21-year-old student activist and stan, comparing the fancam spam to other alternate activist strategies such as phone banking. “Right now it’s an effective tactic as not everyone can go out to protest; a lot of physical activism has been paused due to the pandemic. So it’s a simple form of online direct action that anyone can take part in!”

Dominique’s advice for those unable to protest at this time is straightforward and easily actionable: “Find your local activist group, follow activist accounts, find a community online, spread awareness and educational resources,” she says. “Remember that you are not powerless.”

@jennamahale