This week, a lot of K-pop fans have been acting in service of Black Lives Matter protests by obstructing racist hashtags and police departments. It started last Sunday, May 31, when the Dallas police department issued a tweet asking people to send them videos or pictures of “illegal activity from the protests.” The police had an app for this purpose, one called, creepily enough, iWatch.
It turned out that a fan account for the extraordinarily popular BTS, @7soulsmap, had been monitoring the police Twitter account for their response to the protests. Outraged, @7soulsmap shared the tweet. Then, @7soulsmap tells Vanity Fair, “people in the comments got creative on what videos to send” to the police. “And that’s how it all happened.”
The Dallas, TX, police were flooded with videos, photos, and gifs of K-pop stars in boy bands and girl groups. Also prevalent were anti-racist, pro-Black Lives Matter messages, song lyrics, calls for justice for George Floyd, and videos of police brutality. That night, as reported by Caroline Haskins in BuzzFeed, hundreds replied to @7soulsmap’s tweet. The exact sequence of events, and of who called first for which activities, has been disputed; what’s not disputed is that, within five hours, most likely as a result of the force, speed, and sheer data-eating quantity of K-pop fans’ iWatch entries, the Dallas police announced on Twitter that the app was down.
The next day, police in Grand Rapids, MI, announced they had set up a portal where “any picture or video evidence” could be uploaded. In the state of Washington, the Kirkland police requested local protest footage through a Twitter hashtag. Fans noticed. K-pop videos went flying. The police closed the Grand Rapids portal; the Kirkland hashtag, flooded by videos, became unusable for any surveilling.
Meanwhile, more and more prominent K-pop stars made public declarations in support of the protests, and BTS, by far the most popular musical group in the world, tweeted a brief statement that I first saw because the writer and Rumpus editor Monet P. Thomas shared it with an “OMG” and “fucking burst into tears jfc.”
The tweet read, in Korean as well as English, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter.”
Before long, BTS’s message had become one of the most shared tweets in the world, and the group made what’s reportedly a $1 million donation to the Black Lives Matter cause.
The hashtag-flooding continued as fans turned their attention to the hashtags useful to detractors of Black Lives Matter: the racist #whitelivesmatter, for instance, which had started trending, and #exposeantifa. Since then, they’ve continued to quickly take over any alt-right hashtags that gain in popularity, thereby obstructing what can be a useful organizational tool.
As with the rest of the Black Lives Matter movement, the fans’ activism is highly decentralized; the stars aren’t involved in any organizing, and K-pop fans are a vast, diverse group, so multitudinous that it’s difficult, really, to think of fans as a group. (If you’re unfamiliar with K-pop, try to think of what it would mean for “fans of popular American music” to be a group.) That said, the various fandoms can move unusually fast, and in large numbers. “I don’t know of any other group that can organize at this scale so effectively,” says T.K. Park of the blog “Ask a Korean.”
And despite the sudden media interest, this is far from the first time K-pop fans have taken collective political action. In Chile, for instance, the Ministry of the Interior assigned blame to K-pop fans worldwide, among other online critics of the Chilean government, for fomenting unrest. Nicole Santero, a graduate student who runs the popular BTS fan account @researchBTS and is studying fan culture and BTS for her dissertation, says that the BTS fandom, for one, “regularly organizes and participates in charity efforts and service projects worldwide.”