During the 2020 and 2021 protests in Chile, Colombia and Peru, Latin American fans of K-pop – Korean popular music that blends rhythms, styles, dance routines and has a defined aesthetic – moved from using social media to support their favorite artists to use them to sabotage the hashtags of conservative influencers who discredited the mobilisations.
Through coordinated actions, the youth managed to circumvent and minimize the political content in favor of Sebastián Piñera, Manuel Merino and Uribismo. They did this through mass posting of fancams, meaning GIFs, images and memes of their Korean artists.
This coordinated participation, known as slacktivism or cyberactivism, is characterized by the use of technology, especially the internet, to express dissatisfaction on specific topics. For some specialists, this is not a genuine form of participation, but rather a set of actions that are facilitated thanks to the network’s dynamics, as there is no ‘real’ involvement or impact on the political life of the countries in question.
But the truth is that the actions of the k-popers on Twitter surprised affected Latin American governments who, in their ignorance, acted with a certain lightness and exaggeration, even cataloging the initiatives as cyberterrorism sponsored by the international radical left. This provoked derision and highlighted the gap between traditional politics and these emerging forms of social action.
Twitter, fandom and fanbase in America Latina
Twitter and recently Tik-Tok are the quintessential K-pop social networks and their followers use them to support their favorite artists. This highly coordinated global community has even developed jargon to communicate and coordinate virtual actions, whether it’s voting for awards like the Asian Artist Awards, the birthdays of their idols, or making a music release go viral.
Typically, each K-pop musical group – BTS and NTC are the most popular – has its own fan group or fandom. The BTS fandom is known as ARMY (Adorable Representative MC for Youth) and has a set of Twitter accounts called Fanbase that are organized geographically and have thousands of followers. In Latin America there are a significant number of accounts in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Peru, although the Peruvian account was recently suspended.
These fandoms are characterized by the manipulation of network algorithms in their favor and basically do so through three recurrent actions. First, fandoms organize annually for their favorite groups to win the music awards votes. This global dynamic, known as ‘fighting’ or battle, is highly competitive and started in 2016 with the Asian Artist Awards, becoming popular in the West with the American Music Awards or the Billboard Music Awards, where the band with the most votes on Twitter or on the official page is awarded.
The second action that K-popers resort to is the ‘streaming or listening party’ where, in the period prior to the release of a new song or album, the fanbases instruct the followers, in their own jargon, indicating a day and a time, for each fan to post a photo with the hashtag and photo of the song they are playing and thus turn it into a global trend.
And the third action, known as ‘clearing hashtags’, is a tactic to counter content posted on Twitter that seeks to discredit K-pop. Such content is always accompanied by hashtags that say negative things about your artists. In response, fandom starts cleaning up these publications, identifying these hashtags and then using them to their advantage, that is, slightly changing their form and content and adding fancams to them. Once these actions are carried out, they are published en masse. As a result, malicious content becomes spam due to its high volume of publications, in addition to being denounced simultaneously by the K-popers themselves, making it disappear as a suggested topic on the platform.
As can be seen, these virtual behaviors demand a high level of coordination, time and commitment. A clear example of this was the ‘hashtag cleaning’ employed by Latin American k-popers during their participation in the protests. Once these fans identified the conservative hashtags, they modified them with fancams, mass-posted and reported them as spam.
However, for this to happen, this content originally categorized as ‘political’ by Twitter had to change. To do this, they impregnated them with fancams from their favorite artists, causing their cataloging to quickly switch to ‘entertainment’ or ‘K-pop’. Once that was done, it was only a matter of time before they became spam, drastically reducing their impact.
This is what happened in Chile, Colombia and Peru during the protests, despite none of them being among the main countries producing K-pop content. However, according to the head of global K-pop and Kcontent associations, Yeon Jeong, several Latin American countries have a lot of fans. Brazil is the first country in the region and sixth in the world with the most active Twitter accounts, followed by Mexico in eighth place in the world, Argentina in twelfth, Peru in nineteenth and Colombia in twentieth.
The actions carried out in the three countries by the K-popers are not cyberterrorism. In fact, if we consider that this industry dominates the global conversation on Twitter with a production of 7.5 billion tweets in 2020, surpassing topics like Covid-19, the climate crisis and social dissatisfaction, it’s clear that what happened to us protests was just a small sample of the scope these mobilizations can have.