Digital Activism on K-Pop Twitter : A Mastery of Skill

Over the past few years, the »Hallyu », or Korean wave, has washed over the world. While in recent years, the main names in the media have been BTS or Blackpink, Korean pop music, referred to as kpop from here on out, has been growing in popularity globally since the early 2000s, with groups such as Girls’ Generation, Big Bang, Super Junior, TVXQ, and more.

Blackpink during their concert at the Zénith, Paris, 2019.

Being an international topic for over a decade, kpop and kpop fans have witnessed the apparition and evolution of a plethora of social media platforms. While still used, forums have been largely abandoned for Reddit, Instagram, TikTok more recently, and mostly Twitter. The latter is by far the core of the kpop community ; on Instagram, a lot of kpop related posts are simply comprised of Twitter screenshots, and Reddit posts often link back to Tweets.

SuperM during their concert at AccorHotels Arena, Paris, 2020.

This « hub » of the kpop community that is Twitter encompasses many and more different fandoms (group of fans of a certain idol group) ; these culturally heterogenous groups gathered around the topic and a culture that is different to them is a breeding ground for communication, conflicts and debates.

Despite the frequent disagreements between fandoms and within fandoms, there have been instances where kpop fans join together and put their differences aside in a common activist effort. Digital activism seems to be almost a weapon in the hands of kpop fans, who wield it with jaw-dropping expertise, for a majority of kpop fans are digital-born. Digital activism is thereby not a rare occurrence within the kpop community, most frequently battling cultural appropriation or racially conotated remarks by idols or hatred towards their idols. While these acts generally happen on a smaller scale, and are fandom specific, a recent event led to the entire community acting together.

After the tragic events leading to a resurgence of the BLM movement, an opposing group of people had created #WhiteLivesMatter. This hashtag, and the related #WhiteOutWednesday were quickly hijacked by K-pop fans, posting videos of their idols performing on-stage, also known as fancams. This hijacking led to the topic being trending for completely different reasons as what it had been meant for.
This first form of digital activism is called « hashjacking », for the WhiteLivesMatter & WhiteOutWednesday hashtags were hijacked with a completely different kind of posts.

Similarly, kpop fans also took over the replies of police Twitter accounts asking for videos of illegal activities during BLM protests. Sending in videos of their favorite kpop idols in the replies, as well as on the police’s app, causing it to shut down, kpop fans completely drowned out the actual footage requested by the police.
This second kind of activism, is slightly more difficult to define. Since it doesn’t use a hashtag, it can’t be called hashjacking. In a similar vein, it could be considered an act of contesting what people see. This is however not accurate either, as the kpop fancams and videos posted in the replies and on the police app weren’t showing an opposite point of view, which in this case would be police brutality. The content posted in this instance was of a completely different nature.

This is but one example of the many ways kpop fans make social media affordances their own. For example, when scandals surrounding idols hit, their die-hard fans usually take it upon themselves to « clear the searches ». In order to drown out the posts about the scandal, they trend certain positive topics related to the idols they seek to protect. Using Twitter’s affordance of topics, they don’t actually use hashtags to hide the scandal, but simply mass tweet certain phrases. This can be linked back to network theory, based on Castells observations ; without using hashtags, the structure of networks on Twitter is more crucial than the content itself. Topics become trending and are spread mostly through the network structure of the fandoms concerned by the specific scandal at hand.

As many occasions have shown, kpop fans can be a joint force to fear. Born along with the internet, they not only master the different uses of social media, but a big part of their socialization has been done on the world wide web, meaning that, from a young age, they have been socialized to many different cultures and are aware of many different social issues. As Bennett and Segerberg note, connective action, as opposed to collective action, has a starting point of « self-motivated […] sharing of already internalized or personalized ideas, plans, images, and resources with networks of others » (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012, 753). In this sense, digital socialization plays a crucial part in the internalization of said ideas, which can lead to activism in order to defend and live by these values. These factors, when combined with others, create a group of people ready to act against injustice and societal problems, using the internet as their platform.

  • Asdourian, Bruno. « Digital activism & hashtag » (class lecture, Communication, Organisation et Transformation Digitale I, Université de Fribourg, Fribourg, November 4, 2021).
  • Bennett, W. Lance, Segerberg Alexandra. 2012. « The Logic of Connective Action. » Information, Communication & Society 15, no. 5 (April): 739-768.
  • @lovelydoya. Twitter Post. May 31, 2020, 11:58 PM.
  • Haasch, Palmer. « K-pop stants are using short videos called fancams to drown out racists online. This is how the movement started. » Insider. June 6, 2020.
  • Mercier, Coraline. Blackpink in Paris, 2019. Photograph. May 26, 2019.
  • Mercier, Kim. SuperM in Paris, 2020. Photograph. February 28, 2020.
  • @thetaeprint. Twitter post. may 10, 2020, 7:38 PM.




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