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The Power of Stan Twitter During a Period of Civil Unrest

As the United States reels with the pain of the death of George Floyd and forces itself to finally face the repercussions of centuries of discrimination, police violence and institutional racism, the internet has come alive. Yet there’s one faction of Twitter that never sleeps, anyway: stan Twitter

While the term “stan” derives from the Eminem song “Stan” from 2000, stan Twitter was truly born in 2010 along with One Direction. As the internet became a more structured environment, it was ripe for organization by fan groups around the world. One of the reasons why One Direction was so wildly popular was their fans’ ability to utilize platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. They were one of the first boy bands of the modern digital age, but as the landscape of One Direction altered, the internet was shifting right along with it. 

Though One Direction remains incredibly influential online, K-pop’s various groups have filled the void that the constant barrage of Directioner content left after the group went on hiatus. K-pop is a style of Korean music that has come to dominate the global music market. Korea has long had a strong music industry, rising into serious popularity in the 1990s. K-pop began to gain major traction internationally in the mid-2010s and it’s been unstoppable ever since. DJ Steve Aoki told Rolling Stone in 2018, “With streaming, fans now have such a large voice, and that’s how BTS really became a phenomenon — because the fans made it a phenomenon, like with the underground culture of punk and hardcore. These guys just crush it. And I think because the fans are making such a big deal, it’s not going anywhere.”  These fans that Aoki praised are notoriously intense

In her dissertation entitled “Nobody Can #DragMeDown: An Analysis of the One Direction Fandom’s Ability to Influence and Dominate Worldwide Twitter Trends,” Nicole K. Santero stated, “Implications can be made suggesting that a large and global fandom like Directioners has the ability to: 1) continue shaping the way social media is used to obtain and spread news; 2) provide valuable insight for industry professionals in terms of marketing and promotion strategies; and 3) potentially make a difference in the world by raising awareness on news topics beyond just One Direction.” 

Power has always spread around the internet, as groups come into and fall out of popularity. It’s not just One Direction and K-pop bands – Taylor Swift,  Beyoncé, Little Mix, Twenty One Pilots, Nicki Minaj and countless other groups have become famous online for their ability to act as a unit. Arguably, Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters were the birth of stan culture, but it’s the online organization on a global and prolonged scale that gave One Direction a claim to the crown (as supported by the work “A New Breed of Fan? Regimes of Truth, One Direction Fans and Representations of Enfreakment” by William Proctor). In an informal poll done by Affinity Magazine, the “the ultimate pop fandom” on Twitter was concluded to be BTS. However, the final two remaining fandoms were both for K-pop groups, with the last round bringing in a total of 37,284 votes. These K-pop stans are known for being able to vote, argue about and promote their groups in overwhelming force. 

Fancams are one of the biggest products of K-pop stan culture, as they make videos that focus on specific celebrities and band members, even spreading to celebrities that aren’t K-pop idols, like Timothée Chalamet and even Hasan Minhaj. Fancams gained notoriety when they began to flood tweets of tragedies with comments saying things like, “If only you stanned…” or #…IsOverParty,  always accompanying these claims with fancams. This ability to quickly find and mob tweets horrified people, but now it’s one of the most useful powers online. When a nation is organizing protests, riots and other forms of resistance, the ability to move swiftly and with force online is incredibly valuable.

This talent for spamming has demobilized police, the #AllLivesMatter movement and the #BlueLivesMatter movement on Twitter. The Dallas Police Department (PD) launched an app to report protestors. Stans immediately activated, spamming it with fancams until the app crashed and Dallas PD was so overwhelmed by videos of K-pop idols that they took the app down. Then Grand Rapids, Michigan also tried to launch a way to report protestors. Activists outside of stan Twitter saw this and alerted the stans. For example, writer Talia Lavin is not entangled within the world of stans, but she called upon them to crash the Grand Rapids PD’s protest database. Fancams were uploaded to the portal and the police department had to take it down. Additionally, when someone clicks on the tags of #BlueLivesMatter on Twitter, there are thousands of jokes and fancams to be seen, covering up other content and drowning out racist remarks. Stan Twitter has become an actual army, not just BTS ARMYs, as all sides of the internet have come to use fancams and ask the stans for support.

Stan accounts often have hundreds of thousands of followers, and even when they don’t have a lot of followers on their accounts, the reach that they have is monumental. These are young people with a platform, and they’re using it. Fan accounts are spreading threads, promoting their idols’ messages and making it clear that they disagree with their favorite people when they aren’t doing enough to speak out and donate. Stans are sharing links and using threads in ways that they typically do to promote their idols careers. 19-year-old Quianna Jackson runs an account for Kang Daniel (DANITY fandom), and made a thread that gained over 44,400 likes, titled “a thread of information, ways to support and educational resources about #BlackLivesMatter by a black woman.” Through her connection to DANITY and ARMYs her voice was even stronger.

Fan accounts are also calling each other out for their own misgivings, working to weed out accounts that they believe should lose their popularity and prominence, as BTS ARMY member James Slater compiled a popular thread listing accounts to avoid.  Stan accounts like to use specific layouts and maintain their aesthetics, but stans have been slamming each other for avoiding confronting social justice issues in order to maintain the look of their accounts.

Fans are spreading news and resources under the guise of promoting their favorite celebrities. For example, one tweet by a Yungblud stan named Victoria brought in thousands of likes, tricking people into opening a thread titled “PROOF THAT YUNGBLUD AND HALSEY ARE DATING AGAIN” with numerous petitions and resources included below. There has been a pause on celebrity culture.

One BTS ARMY, Lilly Camp, was present at protests in Atlanta, and posted videos on the scene. Her connection to stan Twitter only helped to promote her content because of her previously existing community. The more political and activism-driven side of the platform began to overtake the stan influence on Lilly’s videos, her following remains rooted in stans.  Stans are even turning events at the scenes of protests into fancams to better spread the footage.

As protests continue and stan accounts keep overwhelming different platforms, one thing is certain: stan Twitter has un undeniable power. Stans have created a complex and useful system that if properly activated, can be available to organizers, and the energy of those who are already engaged in this online world is meaningful.

Feature image via The Verge

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Helen Ehrlich is a writer who enjoys politics, music, all things literary, activism and charity work. She lives in the United States, where she attends school. Email her at: wyohelen@gmail.com

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