The organising prowess of K-pop fans is legendary. Through their use of social media and understanding of all things digital, they are able to ensure their idols are trending topics who top the charts and fill stadiums. But while they have a record of being apolitical, the controversial positions taken by United States President Donald Trump and his campaign for re-election is prompting some to use their skills to influence American politics. The expertise has to be used wisely; while freedom of expression is a fundamental human right for many societies, targeting people with malicious intent and bringing chaos to the internet violates the rights of others.
South Korean fans of K-pop groups like BTS and Blackpink tend not to get involved in political matters, believing it affects the image of their beloved bands. But K-pop is a global phenomenon with legions of adherents that share the same obsessions and mindset. Tech-savvy American devotees have been using their online communities and mobile apps to encourage participation and make donations to causes like the Black Lives Matter campaign. A number, along with users of the popular video-sharing network TikTok, claim credit for a prank that led to a smaller-than-expected turnout for Trump’s rally in the Oklahoma city of Tulsa last weekend.
Having taken exception to Trump’s position on a host of issues including race, gender and policing, they heeded online calls to sabotage the event by reserving tickets to the rally at an auditorium without intending to go. Just 6,200 of the 19,000 seats were taken up and a stage prepared for overflow was never used; organisers claimed there had been one million requests for tickets. K-pop fans are also accused of spamming an online birthday card for the president, drowning out Twitter hashtags associated with right-wing causes with K-pop videos and memes and disrupting a Dallas police app seeking information about protesters.
K-pop fans are renowned for volunteering in emergency situations and being highly supportive of online charitable causes. Their aim is to make the artists they support proud. But by getting too deeply involved in politics, their actions could have the opposite effect – especially if it restricts or prevents freedoms.