President Trump’s campaign expected large crowds on Saturday night at the Tulsa Rally. The actual attendance figure was nowhere near predictions. This, in part, is due to the work TikTok users and K-pop fans did to interfere with the rally. Candy Chan writes about the online activism of her generation.
President Trump and his team had high expectations for their Saturday night rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Brad Parscale, chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign, promised a million attendees. There would be a crowd so big, just the indoor venue would not suffice, leading the team to build a stage outside too. But as people trickled into the BOK center, with a 19,000-seat capacity, it became evident that the numbers would disappoint. Only 6,200 attendees made it inside to see Trump—that’s around 30% of the seats in the arena.
After the Trump campaign posted a tweet asking followers to register for free tickets to the rally, K-pop fans devised a plan. They registered for tickets and encouraged others to do the same, only they would not show up.
The reason behind such a low attendance figure may be because of teenagers on TikTok, a social media app, and K-pop fans. After the Trump campaign posted a tweet asking followers to register for free tickets to the rally, K-pop fans devised a plan. They registered for tickets and encouraged others to do the same, only they would not show up.
TikTok’s users followed suit, posting videos of themselves registering for tickets to sabotage the event. Some videos garnered millions of views. “Oh no, I signed up for a Trump rally, and I can’t go,” said one user on TikTok, before faking a cough — think of Karen on the other end of the phone from that scene in the movie “Mean Girls”.
News outlets were quick to call this set-up a “prank”, failing to acknowledge the history of online activism steered by teenagers. K-pop fans, in particular, used their platforms for political purposes for a while.
How K-Pop Fans Overcome the Collective Action Problem
At the start of June and the start of nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd, K-pop fans interfered with police attempts to surveil protestors. When the Dallas Police department asked people in a tweet to send in “video of illegal activity” through the iWatch Dallas app, K-pop fans flooded the app with pictures and videos of their favorite artists.
Within hours of the tweet, the Dallas Police Department notified followers that the app was down due to “technical difficulties”.
Later that week, K-pop fans infiltrated the #whitelivesmatter and #Bluelivesmatter hashtags, drowning out anti-Black Lives Matter tweets with posts of their favorite celebrities, organizations where people can donate and petitions to sign.
K-pop fans were not solely involved in U.S. politics. In 2019, they were mentioned in a report released by the Chilean government examining the causes behind the protests. According to the report, the protests and civil unrest over inequality started because of “international influences and media,” and K-pop fans were among the accused of making comments against the Chilean police forces.
Elijah Daniels: K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly.
Too often, U.S. society dismisses K-pop fans on the grounds of racism and sexism. They can sing along to Korean songs and hit each dance move in the music video with precision. They idolize boy bands whose members stand unashamed in their flamboyance. These fans garnered years of experience organizing and mobilizing online.
“K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want,” said Elijah Daniels, a YouTuber who took part in the campaign to sabotage Trump’s rally.
K-pop fans are not alone; they represent a whole generation of social media users who found their communities online and use their skills to do something, anything, to make an impact.