When Black K-Pop Fans Are Terrorised Online, Who Listens?
If you’re deemed an “anti,” the harassment can be brutal and unrelenting — and no one is stepping in to help.
M, a vocal K-pop fan who asked that I not use her real name, makes sure that her profile picture is different on all her social accounts so her online harassers will have a harder time finding her on various apps and platforms. She also stresses when she fiddles with the parental settings on her daughter’s tablet, concerned that trolls will be able to take advantage of her child’s account. “Sometimes people are going to hate you for existing, even more so if you're Black or a woman, and unfortunately doubly so when you're a Black woman,” she said.
M is one of the many Black women who were doxxed in the past year as part of a K-pop fan-based cyberbullying spree. Her “crime”? Being considered an “anti,” or a person who hates a celebrity or icon, even if, like M, they actually consider themselves fans). Once someone is branded as an anti of a hugely popular Korean group like BTS or TWICE, anonymous accounts will specifically target them for harassment. M is known online only by her username, but one of her many doxxers posted her government name in 2020. Now, she’s constantly fearful that her location is trackable and her safety compromised. Other Black women have had similar experiences. Once identified as someone to target, these women had their identities stolen, their online reputations ruined within their communities, and have been threatened with physical harassment, stalking, and swatting. Accounts like the now-shuttered @friendandfoe1 have threatened to leak naked pictures of Black K-pop fans, post information about people’s parents and siblings, release their government information along with their location, and much more. Afterwards, victims’ lives are never the same.
I definitely feel even less safe [online] than before, and even more cautious.
Jay, Doxxing Victim
It’s a confusing look for the K-pop fan community that has emerged on the world stage as a force of good. Many K-pop fans have a long record of engaging in online activism, much of it in the name of fighting anti-Blackness. In 2020, many were behind a legion of actions: They flooded racist Twitter hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter with K-pop-related memes, sabotaged the Dallas Police Department’s effort to use the iWatch Dallas app to monitor protestors, and registered for thousands of free tickets to Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Okhlahoma, so the ratings-obsessed former president would be humiliated by a nearly empty venue. But many Black women have felt that these efforts to address injustices have, at the same time, obscured the anti-Black harassment happening within its own K-pop communities.
The hypocrisy can be maddening. Fan and user BK was doxxed in October 2020 following a tweet expressing her disgust over a graphic that overlaid George Floyd’s dead body with sales numbers from BTS’ Map Of The Soul: 7 and BLACKPINK’s The Album. BK told me that she is only now returning to normal, but still feels hesitant to speak publicly about what happened (or even in defence of others) for fear of being targeted again.
These stories of doxxing and harassment, specifically targeting Black fans, detract from the “K-pop fans are all social justice heroes” narrative that’s been steadily building in both the public consciousness and the media.
A Twitter user and doxxing victim named Jay described how cyberattacks are impossible to defend yourself against: “I definitely feel even less safe [online] than before, and even more cautious.” She pointed out that cyber attackers use carefully chosen language to avoid violating platform rules that would get them blocked. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that some of the specific accounts I referenced had been suspended for violating the company’s rules regarding platform manipulation and spam. “Account holders cannot promote violence against, threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or other protected groups,” the spokesperson said. “Further, posting a person's private information without their express permission is a direct violation of Twitter’s private information policy.”
Even though Black fans have been instrumental in helping their idols learn and evolve when it comes to cultural appropriation, some stans consider these learning moments to be insulting — an offense worthy of punishment.
K-Pop has long referenced Black music, fashion, language, and beauty; when done with innovation and talent, this quality has won many groups Black fans. But while the majority of K-Pop musicians and fans do it respectfully, some prefer to strip Black people from Black culture. This disrespectful appropriation has contributed to an unjust sense of ownership. Anyone who disagrees is “overly sensitive,” and thus a fair target for abuse. Among stan communities, there is an appropriation-to-abuse pipeline, according to May Santiago, a PhD candidate in cultural studies, who notes that racist language, online harassment, and cyberbullying is all perceived to be an extension of how devoted a stan is to the object of their fascination. “Their chosen media figure is God, and they’re the disciples. If anyone dares question the integrity of such iconography, all bets are off,” she said. “This is particularly hateful when a critical user is Black or brown.” Under this warped logic, any criticism comes from a malevolent place; so even though Black fans have been instrumental in helping their idols learn and evolve when it comes to cultural appropriation, some stans consider these learning moments to be insulting — an offense worthy of punishment.
In a study conducted by The Fighting Stripes in 2020, a site founded in 2012 to give Korean Americans a platform to talk about what they love, 93.6% of the participants reported feeling as though Black K-pop fans tend to receive more backlash for calling out instances of cultural appropriation within K-pop and were more likely to be threatened with doxxing. That’s consistent with the rest of the internet, where Black women are disproportionately vulnerable to online harassment. According to a study done by Amnesty International in 2017, Black women are 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets. In fact, Black feminists, Shafiqah Hudson and I’Nasah Crockett, created the hashtag #YourSlipIsShowing in 2014 to bring attention to people in digital blackface and those who create disinformation campaigns targeting Black women.
While some people who listen to K-pop simply enjoy the fan experience and use their love of K-pop to bond and connect with other music listeners, others are living vicariously through the lives of these Korean idols, developing unhealthy attachments to them, and are willing to go to destructive lengths in defending their idol's perceived honour. With viral hashtags like #StopDoxxingOverKpop and #ProtectBlackStans, these harrowing experiences are finally gaining exposure, shedding light on the most toxic corners of fandom — a supposed safe space that’s certainly not safe for everyone, least of which Black women.