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Understanding K-pop Stans, Stan Culture and What Makes Them so Powerful

Jun 22, 2020

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What does it mean to be a “Stan”? The month of June has been a massive show of force for K-pop stans, as well as an entree to much of America as to what a “stan” actually is. A quick definition: Stan = stalker + fan (see: Eminem’s song, “Stan”); a highly devoted fan, often exhibiting traits of a parasocial relationship with a celebrity. 

Lets’ recap the last three weeks of K-pop stan influence.

On May 31, K-pop stans mobilized to overwhelm and basically shut down a newly released Dallas Police Department iWatch app over concerns that protestor images would be shared and lead to punishment. On June 3, they turned their attention to the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag. The goal was to make noise to drown out any racist messaging with postings like: “Ignore whatever the f**k this is… #WhiteLivesMatter Enjoy this black pink clip.”

Their latest move targeted the Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla., which received more than a million ticket requests but — at 6,200 attendees — was not able to fill the 19,000 rally venue. Using both Twitter and TikTok to spread the word, the fandom encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to register for the free rally tickets, not show, and delete their posts within 24-48 hours. Some comments posted afterward appeared to be from teenagers, not yet legal to vote, celebrating their opportunity to affect the election despite their age.

The key ingredients of the power that this stan group is wielding is simple: social platform usage + a shared passion and/or ideology + hyperactive engagement and willingness to act. These are the general ingredients for most “factions”, groups of highly engaged and ideologically aligned groups intent on spreading their perspectives and beliefs.

In our work, we see factions span the full spectrum of passions and views, from K-pop stans, to 2nd Amendment Rights Activists, and Hipster Mamma Lifestyle Bloggers, to Fringe Trolls. They not only have the power to affect protests and rallies, but also brands and businesses.

More definitions to understand Stan factions:

  • Stanning is the act of coming out to enthusiastically support a favorite celebrity online.
  • A stan community will often coordinate actions with and encourage actions from other individuals stanning for the same celebrity.
  • Stan culture comprises a shared vernacular (including terms like OOMF, shade, tea, wig, sis, skinny, skinny legend, bop, fat, flop, locals, normies, etc.). This vernacular often overlaps significantly with (or appropriates from) African-American online culture and LGBTQ online culture. In fact, a major component of stan culture includes gay men stanning for (often stereotypically hyper-feminine) female artists like Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé. (And, before the internet, Judy Garland and Madonna.)

Stan culture describes an online phenomenon in which communities of stalker fans, or stans, engage in overly enthusiastic support of a favorite celebrity online (called “stanning”), including at times vehement, coordinated attacks against detractors and critics. Stan culture has been accused of being fundamentally unhealthy, causing key celebrities (typically women) to shut down social media accounts, and committing fraud in order to support their favorite artists financially or in social standing. Stan community tactics overlap with those common to trolling communities in 4chan/8chan/Reddit, but also include tactics unique to stan culture (see below).

Tactics Used By Stan Factions

Brigading (attack): Stans often use brigading to attack critics of their favorite artist. For example, supporters of Michael Jackson have used brigading to amplify attacks on the reputation and credibility of MJ accusers like Wade Robson, as well as calls for “muting” public figures who have taken the side of Jackson’s accusers (like Oprah Winfrey) or boycotting businesses for declining to play his music in their establishments due to the allegations.

Brigading (algorithmic boosting): Stan communities use brigading to make hashtags and news articles trend, and boost the algorithmic visibility of specific posts. For example, Taj Jackson tweeted a link to a YouTube video from the channel Michael Jackson Allegations, and asked MJ fans to “tag their sponsors in this thread and help spread the truth”. In addition to receiving visibility with sponsors of the anti-Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland”, the long thread of responses to the tweet led to increased general engagement which, in turn, boosts the post’s visibility in user timelines. That algorithmic boost carries over to YouTube, where the video in question has received over 1.8M views, in spite of the channel only having 9.5k subscribers.

Stream manipulation: Stan communities encourage each other, and “locals” (outsiders to their community of “stans”), to consume the products of their favored celebrity, typically involving streaming their music or movies. The #shallowbucks campaign was one such attempt by stans to fraudulently encourage people to stream the Lady Gaga song, “Shallow”, on Spotify, in expectation of receiving a free beverage from Starbucks. Stans for musical artists like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and others often use inauthentic, coordinated activity on social media to encourage high play counts, and in the case of Ariana Grande, has been credited with getting their favored artist’s song to the top of the streaming charts in record time.

Using gamed numbers to discredit detractors: In addition to gaming numbers to boost their favored celebrity, stans will also use the same stats to discredit detractors. After the release of “Leaving Neverland”, Michael Jackson stans pointed to high streaming values (which they partially encouraged) as evidence that the various MJ boycotts were not working.

Community-specific names and terms: Stans tend to have their own names for themselves — Michael Jackson’s “moonwalkers”, Ariana Grande’s “arianators”, and Lady Gaga’s “little monsters”. These names become hashtags used on mainstream social platforms to coordinate activities and signifiers to help community members find each other on public platforms.

Follow-back networks: Stan communities often seek each other out with follow-back requests to build each accounts follower network (and influence) and create a tight-knit network on broad, public social platforms. As a result, they often have high degrees of similarity between their follower/following/friends lists.

Boycott lists: When stan communities perceive their favored celebrity under attack, they sometimes formulate lists of other celebrities, businesses, and organizations that have facilitated these attacks, in order to boycott. This can happen on social platforms, or it can happen in community-specific discussion forums, like message boards, subreddits, or Discord servers.

IRL (in real life) action: Some stan communities have employed in-real-life actions, like sharing posters on social media that can be posted in public places (sometimes including QR codes to bring new people into their info universe), or even public billboard/bus advertisements.

Auto-posting from stan forums to social media: Stan communities have thrived in community-specific forums, like message boards and private chat rooms, for years, but mainstream social media platforms threaten the visibility of those platforms for potential new community members. One tactic to recruit members and drive traffic to those private forums is to auto-link new threads and comments on their message boards to their Facebook or Twitter profile.

Stans are just one of the kinds of factions that Yonder is analyzing and helping our clients better understand. Hit us up if you want to learn more!

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