On Twitter, in Canada, #AllLivesMatter is trending.
No surprise there. The emergence and reemergence of that hashtag typically follows a traceable, predictable and somewhat abject logic.
First, protests against police brutality and anti-Black violence begin. (In this case, they were reignited over a Wisconsin police officer shooting a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back, in front of his three young sons, paralyzing him.)
Next, people demand the recognition that Black lives do matter — that Black people, systematically disenfranchised for centuries, deserve better than the violent world they must wade through each day, safety unpromised.
Finally, for whatever reason, those determined to undermine and delegitimize that conversation do so using hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.
Recently, no such luck. The juncture has failed spectacularly. #AllLivesMatter is trending, but only because thousands of K-pop stans — passionate and devoted followers of bands like BTS and BLACKPINK — have mobilized to use their online literacy as a means of defusing the hashtag, rendering it functionally useless.
This has been happening since at least the beginning of June, when protests broke out following the killing of George Floyd. When hashtags like #BlueLivesMatter began to find popularity, K-pop fans quickly responded by hijacking them, capitalizing on their virality by tweeting them out with totally off-topic posts. The point is to bury the meaning of the hashtag, neutralizing it with anime references and “fancams” of K-pop idol groups. (A fancam is close-up footage of a live performance taken by an audience member at a concert.)
Here, see for yourself:
If it weren’t for these actions, those hashtags would be replete with thousands upon thousands of trending, highly visible tweets from people intentionally undermining a conversation that urgest the world to recognize that Black lives matter as much as anyone else’s. Instead, visiting them now reveals random clips of K-pop performers doing elaborate choreography, often with appended messages that point out the problems with such hashtags.
For the record, though, this phenomenon hasn’t been confined to the disruption of hashtags. On May 31st, the Dallas Police Department urged citizens to download an app called iWatch Dallas, which they could use to submit videos of protesters engaged in “illegal activity.”
And the K-pop fans were lightning fast as always.
“DOWNLOAD THE APP AND SEND ALL YOUR FANCAMS!!!” @ngelwy wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “MAKE THEIR JOBS AS HARD AS POSSIBLE!!! GET THEM FRUSTRATED!!! MAKE THEM TAKE DOWN THE APP!!!”
And this is what they did. They wanted to protect protesters, many of whom were being attacked by police in the streets. And so thousands of stans downloaded the iWatch Dallas app and, instead of uploading what was asked for, they flooded the thread with fancams. The next day, the app had been disabled. On Google Play and Apple’s App Store, it had also been bombed with one-star ratings.
“Due to technical difficulties iWatch Dallas app will be down temporarily,” the police department tweeted. (Underneath it, more memes and fancams were shared.)
K-pop stans have also done this with other hashtags: #MAGA, #Trump2020, and #BuildTheWall included. The reason they’re so adept at this is because it isn’t out of the ordinary for fans of K-pop music to engage with viral tweets as a way to drum up more attention for their favourite artists.
In fact, all of their support and pressure led Big Hit Entertainment, the record label behind the K-pop group BTS, to donate $1 million to the Black Lives Matter campaign, which the group’s fans matched under the hashtag #MatchaMillion. And just over a week before his first campaign rally in three months, in June, waves of K-pop fans sabotaged the rally by reserving tickets for it without the intention of actually going.
“My 16-year-old daughter and her friends in Park City, Utah, have hundreds of tickets,” Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted. “You have been rolled by America’s teens.”
“I never thought I’d see the day where K-pop stans are defeating the police,” read one tweet, capturing what is probably a shared feeling. Just as MIT Technology Review’s Abby Ohlheiser wrote, “Online culture loves a vigilante in times of crisis.”
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