President Trump’s re-election campaign had promised huge crowds for his rally held on June 20th, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, TikTok users and K-pop fans claimed that they were responsible for the failure. The chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign, Brad Parscale, had posted on Twitter that the campaign had received more than a million ticket requests but the reported attendance was lower than expected and eventually led to the cancellation of planned events outside the rally. A spokesman for the re-election campaign, Tim Murtaugh, said that protestors stopped supporters from attending the rally held at BOK Centre which has a capacity of 19,000 people, but reporters present at the event noted that there were very few protests. TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered hundreds of thousands of tickets for the campaign as a prank when Trump campaign’s official Twitter handle posted a tweet on June 11th, asking supporters to register for free tickets using their phone numbers. K-pop fan accounts began sharing this information with their followers and encouraged them to register and then be a no-show at the rally. This trend then reportedly took to TikTok where videos with millions of views asked viewers to do the same.
“It spread mostly through Alt TikTok — we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism,” informed YouTuber Elijah Daniel who also took part in the social media campaign. “K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information among each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want”, he added referring to the process that was followed for the campaign— Users deleted their posts after a day or two to keep them from bleeding into mainstream internet so as to keep the plan hidden. “The majority of people who made them deleted them after the first day because we didn’t want the Trump campaign to catch wind,” said Daniel. After the rally was over, Twitter users declared the victory of their social media campaign – “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to Parscale who had tweeted that “radical protestors” had “interfered” with the rally’s attendance. “Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Parscale said in a statement on June 21. “Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool.”
Initially, the rally was supposed to be held on June 19th, the day of the Juneteenth celebrations. Subsequently, many black TikTokers began expressing their frustrations on the platform. Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old TikTok user from Fort Dodge, Iowa “vented” her own anger in a TikTok video and asked her viewers to participate in the social media campaign— “I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage,” she said in the video. Overnight, her video had gone viral with more than 2 million views and 700,00 likes. “There are teenagers in this country who participated in this little no-show protest, who believe that they can have an impact in their country in the political system even though they’re not old enough to vote right now,” she explained.
On the day after the rally, campaign officials acknowledged that many of those who had signed up were not supporters but some form of ‘online tricksters’. According to one campaign advisor, the “troll data” would be useful to avoid similar happenings in the future by feeding the data into the system to “tighten up the formula used to determine projected attendance for rallies.”
Reportedly, several people who had taken part in the online campaign and signed up for President Trump’s rally with their real phone numbers said that they couldn’t get the Trump campaign to stop sending them messages. A 19-year-old student from California, Mary Garcia said that she used a Google Voice number to sign up as an attendee but two of her friends who had signed up using their real numbers had been overflown with texts from the campaign. Garcia had decided to sign up after watching Jo Luapp’s TikTok video, but when she got to know of the Trump’s campaign boasting about its record-setting ticket numbers, she started regretting what she had done – “I feel like it doesn’t even matter if the rally is full or not,” she said. “They are going to boast about a million tickets being registered, and then they’ll just lie or whatever about how big the audience was.”
In the last few months, K-pop fans have been increasingly involved in American politics – When the Trump campaign was soliciting messages for President Trump’s birthday, K-pop fans submitted a stream of prank messages. In May, the group had also reclaimed the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag by spamming it with K-pop videos to make it harder for white supremacists and sympathizers to find each other and communicate. Regardless of whether the prank of no-show attendees was the reason for empty seats at the president’s rally, teenagers online celebrated with tweets like, “best senior prank ever.”
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