In the context of the protests in the USA, countless memes and tweets with a K-Pop Stan background are currently appearing on Twitter, taking sides with the protesters and against racism and police violence. K-Pop Stans are enthusiastic fans of Korean pop bands. The word Stan is composed of stalker and fan. The scene thrives on social media and is experienced in campaigning – they know how collective actions work online.
In the past, K-Pop Stans have used their accounts and devices in a targeted and coordinated way to increase the number of stream requests or likes of their idols. The Stan culture has spread far beyond the (musical) borders of Korea. This international, lively, colorful, queer and extremely fast subculture, with codes often incomprehensible to outsiders, has long since left the level of stars and music.
Progressive and politically aware community
Pop culture journalist Hyunsu Yim of the Korea Herald reports that the K-Pop Stans have been a progressive and politically aware community for years, not to mention their extremely high level of commitment and organization. They are involved in many issues, from safe roads for Bangladesh to donations and charity campaigns in London.
The K-Pop Stans are now using the empowerment they have experienced in recent years through collective action online at the protests in the United States.
An action with this background was directed against the police in Dallas. The police had called on citizens to upload film and photo material to identify persons via the „iWatch Dallas“ app. Then a Twitter account called for the upload of K-Pop videos.
After the police were flooded with K-Pop videos and images of police violence, they temporarily disabled the upload, citing „technical difficulties“ as the reason. At the same time, the app was given poor ratings in the app stores. This creative protest was started by an account that Buzzfeed News contacted.
netzpolitik.org was also able to communicate with several participating accounts via private messages. The account owners told netzpolitik.org that they wanted to fight against racism. That’s why the accounts have been distributing pictures and videos of protests, criticizing police violence, promoting petitions, HowTos and info pages for days. They also trolled all those who stand for US-President Donald Trump’s America.
And so it happens that hashtags originally used by rights holders like #WhiteLivesMatter or #whiteoutwednesday are taken from this scene and thus made „unusable“. Even the police in Kirkland had to get to know the power of the Stans when they asked to use the hashtag #calminkirkland to share information about riots with the police. The Stans quickly flooded the hashtag with „fancams“, as short videos are called in the scene.
New variety of collective creative disobedience
The Stans also targeted the Grand Rapids Police tip-off portal. The portal was secured in such a way that a telephone number had to be provided, reports Newsweek.com. The idea quickly arose that they should enter the numbers of other police departments.
The agile actions were not only directed against police forces, but also showed solidarity with other forms of protest. For example, a woman who demonstrated alone against racism was congratulated a hundred times by the Stans.
In the actions of the K-Pop fans, a new variety of collective creative disobedience becomes apparent, which was already found in other, less colorful forms at Anonymous.
K-Pop Fans at Anonymous
And so it is only logical that suddenly K-Pop accounts support large anonymous accounts. Two long-standing English language accounts – @YourAnonCentral and @YourAnonNews – have won more than three million followers in the last few days. How many of them are active K-Pop profiles and whether there are fake accounts among them is uncertain.
But one thing is clear: Every time one of the anonymous accounts posts a tweet, he currently receives thousands of retweets and likes within seconds and hundreds of comments, some with embedded gifs. After just a few minutes, the accounts‘ tweets sometimes have tens of thousands of interactions.
There is a lot to be said for the fact that these reactions are machine-generated, says someone from Anonymous Germany, who has been involved for years and has been observing the K-Pop phenomenon at Anonymous for days now. Not only the speed is an indication of automation, but also the repetition of messages and animated images in the individual threads.
Automation „extremely difficult“
Florian Gallwitz, Professor of computer science and media at the Technical University in Nuremberg, opposes this: In a list of 20 suspicious accounts that Anonymous Germany has collected, he cannot find „a single one that even remotely looks like an automated account“.
Gallwitz‘ reasoning: Many of the accounts use iPhone and Android clients. Here it would be „extremely difficult to automatically simulate a realistic interaction“. Furthermore, Twitter is cryptographically secured, so you can’t just build a bot that pretends to be the iPhone Twitter app.
So instead of bots, they could actually be very active profiles from the K-Pop and Stan Twitter scene, breathing new life into Anonymous and remixing their culture.
But it is also possible that spammers, trolls and even whole troll armies are involved in addition to the real K-Pop Stans, some of them only pretending to have something to do with K-Pop. For example, many accounts are currently trying to confuse K-Pop with large anonymous accounts by giving themselves similar names and profile pictures and thus trying to attract followers. One of these new anonymous accounts called @AnonNewz has been banned from Twitter. It was until recently a fake account that tried to attract followers with K-Pop giveaways.
This opaque mixture leads to different interpretations of what is actually happening. Reuters news agency quotes Anonymous expert Biella Coleman as saying that insiders have told her that old key figures from the Anonymous environment are behind the action and that mechanical amplification is also involved. The ability to create many new accounts is classic for Anonymous. Twitter, on the other hand, told Reuters that it could not detect any „substantial coordinated activity“ in the Anons‘ long-standing accounts.
K-Pop Stans already took action in the Chilean revolt
It’s for certain that numerous real K-Pop Stans are politically active. And it’s not the first time they have appeared in large protests. Mass protests for more social policies and a new constitution almost toppled the president of Chile in 2019. The brutal use of police and military against the demonstrators provoked outrage worldwide – part of this outrage also came from the K-Pop scene. In December 2019, the Chilean government even accused foreign K-Pop accounts of interfering in internal affairs and inciting protests.
In the course of this research, netzpolitik.org was able to identify accounts that were active both in Chile and now in the US-protests. One of these K-Pop accounts cautioned netzpolitik.org not to pay too much attention to the issue of fake accounts: „There are more important issues that should be reported on now: For example that nobody should be murdered because of the color of their skin.“