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TIKTOK, K-POP STANS AND TULSA?

We know the story well by now. President Trump and his campaign promised huge crowds at his Tulsa, Okla., rally, something he was clearly excited for, but when Saturday came the "huge" crowds didn't. The campaign touted receiving over a million ticket requests but the fire marshal in Tulsa counted just 6,200 scanned tickets at the 19k-capacity BOK Center. The campaign had even planned outside events to accommodate for "overflow" that never materialized and had to be scrapped all together. The event was a disaster for Trump, with media coverage sparing none of the mortifying details. It was a Schadenfreude-palooza. 

An interesting narrative to emerge over the weekend is that TikTok users and K-Pop stans were partly responsible for driving down attendance by trolling the campaign, claiming to have registered for hundreds of thousands of tickets for the rally. Videos encouraging viewers to do just that racked up millions of views. Evidence of a coordinated effort on the platform is clear but its level of impact is not. Hastags included #EmptySeats and #TulsaFlop, while many users even deleted their posts after a day or two to avoid alerting the campaign.

YouTuber Elijah Daniel, who participated in the social media campaign told The New York Times that “It spread mostly through Alt TikTok—we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism. K-Pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want.” As opposed to the mainstream "Straight TikTok," which is known for viral dance videos, "Alt TikTok" or "Elite TikTok," are anti-mainstream and filled with weird visuals, audios and inside jokes. It just scratches the surface of the growing sub-genre communities on the platform that reject the mainstream.

The pandemic was certainly a contributing factor to the light turnout but perhaps not the only one. The President's declining poll numbers also offer plenty of context. Meanwhile the campaign maintains the spin that the million-plus ticket requests provided valuable data in any case, and that protesters are the real culprit behind the low turnout. Still, those pictures of empty seats speak for themselves. Trump heads to Phoenix today to speak at a 3,000-capacity church: Will there be second wave of TikTok activism?

It's also vital to point out that beyond the humiliation this tactic caused Team Orange as regards crowd size, the greater impact was more subtle. This coordinated trolling robbed Trump 2020 of vital fundraising and GOTV data, because 90%+ of the RSVPs (typically gold for campaigns) were from the resistance, so combing through them for supporters will be costly and difficult. Indeed, there may be no usable data culled from Tulsa, making it a double disaster for Trump.

Having trolled white supremacists previously and clearly prepared to turn their powers on the powerful, online K-Pop communities have proved to be allies to the #BLM protests and show no signs of going away. It's important to emphasize that it's the stans who are claiming credit for at least partially derailing the President's grand rally return; whether or not it's true, it's become a story (one that's been endorsed by such influential anti-Trump voices as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Steve Schmidt). We'll take all the help we can get. 

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