Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was supposed to mark President Donald Trump’s grand reentrance to political campaigning with his first public rally in over three months.
Prior to the rally, the Trump campaign had declared that the event, for which tickets were free, had garnered over one million ticket requests. Yet, that night, the BOK Center where the rally was held was only a third full.
As it turned out, in the days leading up to the rally, an alliance of TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music had conspired to make fake ticket reservations. The original objective was merely to prank the Trump campaign, but it ended up throwing a wrench into the narrative that Trump’s base was especially fired up. It also likely hurt the campaign’s vital data compiling efforts.
A controversial rally
In the week leading up to the rally, the campaign repeatedly touted that ticket reservations had surpassed one million. Trump tweeted on June 15 that ”Almost One Million people request tickets for the Saturday Night Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma!”
Despite these impressive numbers, the event was controversial before it ever happened. Health experts were warning that the rally should not be held because it posed a serious health risk for attendees, especially with Tulsa experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Furthermore, the rally had initially been scheduled for Friday, June 19, or Juneteenth, the day that recognizes and celebrates the freeing of US slaves. Looking to avoid the poor optics of holding a rally on that day while Black Lives Matter protests were still occurring across the country, the campaign instead decided to push the event back a day.
A poorly attended rally
Once Saturday night arrived, social media began to fill up with images of what appeared to be a mostly empty arena. Images of Trump speaking with hundreds of empty seats behind him and ample space on the floor in front of him offered a stark contrast to the pre-rally reports coming from the Trump campaign that boasted of one million reservations.
Since the BOK Center can only hold approximately 19,200 people, there was never a question of all one million people being allowed to enter. Instead, the campaign had set up an overflow area outside and were prepared to use a nearby business center to hold up to 40,000 more attendees. Neither was necessary.
It appeared an operation to falsely inflate the number of ticket reservations, which began with users of the TikTok social media platform, had worked. The idea was first proposed by Mary Jo Laupp, a grandmother in Iowa. It was soon taken up by other TikTok users, including self-described K-Pop stans, who submitted fake names and email addresses with real phone numbers to reserve tickets.
The official final count for attendees was around 6,200, barely a third of the BOK Center’s capacity. Trump was reportedly furious over the low attendance, even as his campaign attempted to claim the reason for the low attendance was protestors blocking the entrance and fears of COVID-19.
Numerous reports, however, placed the blame (or credit) for the poor attendance on the actions of TikTok users and K-Pop stans.
An effective disruption
Some have questioned what effect the TikTok prank actually had on turnout. After all, there was no limit on ticket reservations, so even if there were millions of fake reservations, that alone wouldn’t have reduced the number of real reservations.
It’s possible that sincere Trump supporters who did reserve tickets decided not to show up because they feared the large crowds and risk of coronavirus infection.
Whatever role the prank played in the lower than expected turnout, it’s likely that it had another negative effect for the Trump campaign: it undermined the campaign’s attempt to collect data.
That theory is outlined in a thread by Twitter user Claire Ryan (@aetherlev) who speculates that the abundance of fake names and email addresses will have corrupted the campaign’s data collecting operation.
Like Google and Facebook, political campaigns collect data on people to better target ads and fire up their base. Millions of fake sign-ups make the data collected from the Tulsa rally essentially useless.
This theory is bolstered by a tweet from Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale on June 14. In it, he said, “Just passed 800,000 tickets. Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x.” The tweet then says, “Saturday is going to be amazing!”
What are K-Pop stans?
K-Pop is the common name for South Korean pop music, a genre of music that has grown into a global phenomenon in the last decade. K-Pop artists are generally made up of attractive all-male or all-female line-ups who perform elaborate dance moves while singing infectious pop songs in Korean and sometimes English.
Among the top-selling artists in the genre are BTS, TVXQ and EXO, all of which are male singing groups. BTS is currently the best-selling K-Pop artist of all time, with more than 15 million album sales. TWICE is the best-selling all-female K-Pop act, with nearly 6 million album sales.
(By comparison, the best-selling boy band from America is the Backstreet Boys, which has sold over 100 million albums. They are, of course, from a country more than six times as large as South Korea.)
K-Pop artists draw a largely young and loyal fanbase, the most enthusiastic of which are known as “stans.” That term, which comes from the song “Stan” by American rap artist Eminem, initially meant an unhealthily obsessed fan (the song is about Stan, a fanatical Eminem fan who kills himself and his girlfriend).
Nowadays, fans of various artists use the term as a point of pride to show their dedication.
An unlikely BLM ally
On the surface, it seems odd for K-Pop stans to have a conflict with Trump and yet Saturday was not the first time they have aligned for a cause in America.
To support the Black Lives Matter movement, K-Pop fans took to Twitter in early June to hijack anti-BLM hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter and #WhiteoutWednesday. Those hashtags were meant to be used to criticize BLM, but K-Pop stans posted thousands of pictures of their favorite K-Pop bands and memes, effectively rendering the hashtags useless.
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