These narratives suggest to some that TikTok and K-pop heroes will save America from Trump by being better at the internet than anyone else. It’s a story that began building weeks ago, when stans were praised for spamming law enforcement apps with fan-made videos and hijacking racist hashtags in support of Black Lives Matter protesters. But, as with all myths, it’s more complicated than that.
Stans aren’t a monolith
The heroic narrative means that K-pop stans and TikTok teens are fast becoming to liberals what 4chan is to older Trump supporters: an army of anonymous internet warriors they love to praise but don’t really understand. And while stans may be doing what the #Resistance wants right now, these groups are not monoliths, as Charlie Warzel wrote in the New York Times. The liberals who are desperate for a secret weapon against Trump do not own them, and their loyalty cannot be collectively “won” or “lost.” They also have mixed feelings about following the lead of the older generations that have failed to address problems from school shootings to climate change to systemic racism. Reality is always more nuanced, less clicky, and more morally complicated.
Understanding the role played in this moment by a massive fandom (or, for that matter, an entire generation) requires thinking about stans differently–and understanding that there are multiple truths all in tension with each other.
Yes, many younger people, including K-pop fans and TikTok teens, are using the internet to be heard; and yes, they are also engaged in meaningful activism that deserves attention and respect. But it is simultaneously true that not every K-pop fan is anti-Trump, that even those who are protesting today may not protest tomorrow, and that the same strategies used for non-harmful protest have also been deployed by–and within–these same communities to hurt people, including or especially minorities.
“The tactics being employed–such as crashing hashtags, aggregating donations, or bringing attention to certain links or tweets–all of these actions, for the most part, were employed positively for Black Lives Matter,” says Miranda Ruth Larsen, a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo who is researching K-pop idols in Japan. “They’re the same tactics used against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) fans.”