An Alternative Form of Youth Activism?: How TikTok users & K-pop stans pranked Donald Trump at his rally
Fri, 07 Aug 2020 || By Jasmine Noor

In the digital age, activism can be conducted in ways and space that we would never have imagined before. The ever-decreasing boundaries on people all around the world and how to interact with one another have made social activism an activity that can be conducted by a significant number of people worldwide that have the same cause. Young people all over the world have been at the forefront of the new age of social activism, not limiting themselves to advocating their causes in the form of formal government institutions and traditional offline protests, but also through social media and other digital platforms. Recently, this form of activism, mainly internet-based and spearheaded by young people, has been central in advocating for the global social movement on systemic and institutionalized racism, with the death of George Floyd becoming the catalyst for a revived #BlackLivesMatter movement all over the world. Social media such as Twitter has been utilized as a platform to further the movement's intention, for resource and internet activism.[i] The success of the movement on the internet is mainly led by young people and was bolstered by the active Twitter communities such as K-pop fans. So when Donald Trump announced that he was going to hold a rally on Juneteenth, a historically significant holiday for Black Americans, it angered many people. Before the rally, he claimed that one million tickets were being reserved. However, in a stunning fashion, his rally was attended by a small fraction of it. The reason? TikTok users and K-pop fans. This article will touch on how this phenomenon happened, how young people helped this social movement to be sustained and what does this mean to youth social activism.

 

What Happened?

On June 9, the United States' President Donald Trump announced that he would hold his first campaign reelection rally on June 19 in Tulsa, marking his first rally since the start of the pandemic. This was met with widespread criticism due to his decision of holding the rally in a historically significant holiday for Black Americans, Juneteenth, which is a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The place of the rally, Tulsa, was also the place of the racial massacre of hundreds of African Americans in the part of the city known as "Black Wall Street". This rally also was scheduled after the nation-wide protests on George Floyd's death and the demand to eliminate systemic inequalities on minorities along with protests against police brutality. This was perceived as an insensitive move from Trump amidst all the surrounding circumstances and led to criticisms and anger directed towards him.[ii] The rally was eventually rescheduled to the day after, yet the criticism still holds.[iii] On June 11, a TikTok by Mary Jo Laupp went viral when she urged her followers to register for the event without even going afterwards. This incited many videos that encourage people to RSVP for the event on the platform. In one of the videos, a user called on the support from K-Pop fans in the campaign, an idea which they quickly embraced.[iv] The campaign, which is mostly conducted by Gen Z-ers, registered hundreds of thousands of tickets to the event en masse and inflated the number of ticket requests, as a prank to empty out the stadium. Then, Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale announced that there were over 1 million ticket requests for the rally, exceeding the 19,000-seat capacity of the venue. On June 20, despite the boast for a large turnout, the rally was attended by 6,200 people which is significantly lower than their previous claim.[v] This could mainly be attributed to the stunt that was orchestrated by young people on TikTok and Twitter, demonstrating their unusual tactic for social activism.

 

 

 

Some TikToks that encouraged the prank

 

Young People’s Efforts to Sustain the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

The prank on Trump was not the first time that these tech-savvy young people mobilize themselves in support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the movement gained traction in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, Twitter has seen young people, with the most prominent being K-pop fans, be a platform to heavily support the movement. When anti-Black hashtags such as #WhiteLivesMatter, #WhiteoutWednesday and #BlueLivesMatter started appearing on the platform, K-pop fans spammed the hashtags with “fancams” of their idols dancing. This move resulted in drowned out racist voices due to the countless K-pop-related videos that were posted by the fans.[vi] When the Dallas Police Department tweeted that they are asking cooperation from people to submit videos of “illegal activity from the protests” through its iWatch Dallas app, K-pop fans posted their idols’ fancams en masse. It resulted in the app crashing due to “technical difficulties” when it was in fact being flooded by K-pop fancams.[vii] It is actually unsurprising to have K-pop fans become an unforeseen ally for this movement as many fans have previously donated to charities in commemoration of their artists’ birthdays and other milestone events. This is not only to make them more socially aware, but also as a way to promote their idols.[viii] This mutual relationship is also demonstrated from the artists’ part, as they are expected to be set a good example for their fans. In this case, a significant amount of Korean singers also expressed their support for the movement with the K-pop group BTS donating $1 million to the movement. This compelled BTS’ fans, known as ARMY, to match their donation to the movement through a charity fundraising group “One In An ARMY” and the $1 million donation was achieved in a short time after.[ix] For TikTok, it has been synonymous with videos of people dancing to music since its release. But, there has been a subgenre in TikTok that has risen up and helped support social campaigns called Alt TikTok. In this community of TikTok, they do a lot of pranks and internet activism. They came up with strategies in conducting the prank where users deleted their posts after 24 hours to conceal their prank plan from Trump’s campaign. The similar objective and collective identity caused the unlikely alliance K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok, where they were able to work with each other and pulled off this prank.[x] The growing amount of alternative forms of internet activism done by young social media users for this movement has been immense and proved to be successful as well.

 

A New Form or An Evolution of Youth Social Activism?

The phenomenon that has been explained previously highlighted the increasing usage of social media and alternatives of it in youth activism. This campaign to sink Trump’s rally is one of the creative ways the younger generation uses to voice out their political beliefs. With COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent in many parts of the world, including in the U.S., it wouldn’t come as a surprise that people are more cautious in terms of going into an offline protest with the U.S. COVID cases still rising daily. This prompted people to be more creative in their method of conducting social movements during an ongoing pandemic. However, this can be correlated to the meteoric rise of internet activism that is done by young people to advocate for their chosen causes. In the book By Any Media Necessary, the book highlighted that a more playful style of activism is emerging, by tapping into the collective identities of youth communities which then translated into participatory culture. The book also mentioned that participatory politics can now be described as the instance where participatory culture meets political and civic participation and that political change can be encouraged through social and cultural mechanisms more than traditional political institutions.[xi] This definition of participatory politics also heavily rely on media platforms to further their agenda. The reason is due to the widespread perception that institutional politics are less likely to adjust quickly to new changes and disadvantage minority and youth participants. Grassroots media, such as in the case of Trump’s prank and BLM movement, is utilized as a means for change amidst the failed mechanism of political institutions. This is attributed to the rise of alternative forms of social movements where it aims to make itself visible in public and add more support to the movement. However, we should see this not as a complete decline towards the conventional discourse of participatory politics among youth, but as a diversification of political expression methods such as through social media.[xii] This prank on Trump just showcased one of the new political expression methods to put forth their objectives. One of the passage of the book has perfectly summed up the evolution of youth social activism, “…the online protests calling attention to events in the streets represent some of the ways in which civic media has become a routine part of protest movements, opening participation in protests far beyond those physically present.”[xiii] Thus, to reiterate the first sentence of this article, social activism, especially among youths, has seen itself evolve in ways that we have never seen before and be conducted in the most creative ways possible. Want to know how impactful it is? Just ask Donald Trump about it.

 

Author: Jasmine Noor (Research Assistant at CfDS)

Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas (Research Project Officer at CfDS)

 


[i] Karim, P., 2020. Twitter K-Pop Stan Become The Unforeseen Ally To Black Live Matter: Is It The New Age Of Digital Movement?. [online] Center for Digital Society. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[ii] Vazquez, M., 2020. Trump Says His Next Rally Isn't Scheduled For Juneteenth 'On Purpose'. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[iii] de Vries, K., 2020. Trump Reschedules Tulsa Rally 'Out Of Respect' For Juneteenth. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[iv] O'Sullivan, D., 2020. Trump's Campaign Was Trolled By Tiktok Users In Tulsa. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[v] Lorenz, T., Browning, K. and Frenkel, S., 2020. Tiktok Teens And K-Pop Stans Say They Sank Trump Rally. [online] The New York Times. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[vi] Lee, A., 2020. K-Pop Fans Are Taking Over 'White Lives Matter' And Other Anti-Black Hashtags With Memes And Fancams Of Their Favorite Stars. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Jung, S., 2011. Fan activism, cybervigilantism, and Othering mechanisms in K-pop fandom. Transformative Works and Cultures, [online] 10. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[ix] Hollingsworth, J., 2020. K-Pop Fans Are Being Credited With Helping Disrupt Trump's Rally. Here's Why That Shouldn't Be A Surprise. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed July 3 2020].

[x] Lorenz, T., Browning, K. and Frenkel, S., 2020.

[xi] Jenkins, H., Shresthova, S., Gamber-Thompson, L., Kligler-Vilenchik, N. and Zimmerman, A., 2016. By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, p.2.

[xii] Ibid, pp.1-7.

[xiii] Ibid, p.5.

Image credit to Forbes.