Hijacking hashtags and Viral Tweets: Twitter Online Activism

Over the past several weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen quite an eclectic range of supporters emerging to fight their corner. The famously reclusive Amish, respected and much-loved superheroes Batman and Spiderman, mysterious hacktivist collective ‘Anonymous’, and even Witches on TikTok, have all stepped forward to do battle for the cause.

It’s quite an impressive 5-a-side line-up, but the star player has yet to be named… K-Pop fans.

Fans of Korean Pop music form an online juggernaut of social media clout, with big name bands such as BTS commanding an army of over 100 million followers across social media channels, with many others very close behind.

They are well known in the online community for their extreme devotion and also remarkable organisation, especially when it comes to promoting their favoured band. Hashtags, for example, are their domain, with over 600 million tweets using the #BTS or #BTSArmy over the past several years, according to a recent analysis.

But what have they got to do with Black Lives Matter?

Twitter K-Pop Activism

The Atlantic explains that when US Police begun asking for people to send in video evidence via their police app of “illegal activity” at these protests and marches across America, the K-Pop fans realised “their lightning-fast coordination and prodigious spamming abilities could be repurposed for what [they] considers a righteous cause.” 

K-Pop fans mobilised to send in videos of their favourite performers on stage, dancing and singing, eventually crashing the police app, and they have used similar tactics on Twitter.

When hashtags such as #Trump2020NowMoreThanEver (catchy), or racist hashtags #AllLivesMatter or #WhiteLivesMatter begun to trend recently, the theme of flooding these hashtags with K-Pop spam continued, and with great success. They took over the trends to essentially de-legitimise the hashtag with nothing but fan videos overpowering the trending topics and push any racist hatred to the bottom of trending feeds.

A K-Pop fan cam used to disrupt an All Lives Matter hashtag

Pop culture reporter for Korean Herald, Yim Hyun-su was not surprised by the activism of K-Pop fans, describing them as “a social-media-savvy and politically aware group of people who should not be underestimated,” and a group we certainly haven’t seen the last of when it comes to online causes.

Over 6 billion tweets were sent in 2019 relating to the Korean music industry, highlighting the prolific nature of the fans online, who have been known for their previous activism that Hyun-su detailed in an interesting thread.

He also noted the “largely female, diverse & LGBT makeup of the fandom, which is often on a collision course with online communities that are male dominant/less diverse/more right-wing.” This progressive makeup therefore lends itself to support for movements such as Black Lives Matter, and will no doubt continue in this support as a powerful online ally for similar social justice campaigns.

From Viral Tweet to Petition Sheet

But this sort of Twitter activism hasn’t been exclusive to just K-Pop fans. In fact, any person online who has supported the Black Lives Matter movement publicly can have their own role to play in amplifying black voices and organisations.

As with all social media platforms, any average user can see a posts of theirs become viral overnight if it hits the right tone at the right time, and is seen by the right people. Often when this happens on Twitter, the surprised poster will attempt to then leverage this new-found 5-minutes of viral fame by creating a thread from their widely shared tweet with anything they have to “promote.” Normally, this would be anything from examples of their personal work portfolio, a friends business or quite often, their Instagram profile.

As the movement for black equity has exploded online over the past several weeks, so has people’s awareness of the issues at play, such as the attention needed for petitions, donation funds, and tools or templates to reach out to local government officials to enact change.

Successful viral tweeters have therefore used the social spotlight on their post to advertise links to petitions, donation funds and general educational information.

Tweets will be completely unrelated and about anything at all, but when the original poster realises the attention the post is getting as it snowballs through the virtual world, picking up likes and retweets galore, they use this to the advantage of the petitions or organisations in need of support.

These are just a couple of ways that Twitter communities have used the power they have to continue to raise awareness and push for change, and in the coming weeks, months and even years, this will be increasingly valuable. Once the mainstream media attention wears off as it waits for the next tragedy to re-ignite its interest, it may well be up to the online activists to use the influence they have to keep important conversations like this at the top of mind.

Whether it be K-Pop super-fans uniting to dominate racist hashtags, or sudden viral tweeters shifting the conversation and spotlight back onto anti-racist causes, activist-Twitter is going strong, and long may it continue.