Online Vigilantism and Doxxing in K-Pop Communities is Putting Lives at Risk
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES AND SCREENSHOTS INCLUDED IN THIS ARTICLE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
It’s no doubt that the average person would have some of their personal information online, whether they personally disclosed that information via social media and discussion boards or not. Regardless if you are Canadian and the public records available include census data, property information, tax liens and judgments, criminal records, bankruptcies and court records or you’re American and your voter registration is readily available online, or you’re located anywhere else in world, there are all types of public records that may personally identify people, but that may come at a dangerous cost, especially if someone puts the pieces together in hopes of subjecting you to cyberattacks, hacking, and much more.
With October being National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I wanted to use this opportunity to shed light on the rampant cyber attacks against Black women online, but especially within online K-pop communities.
When it comes to sharing information online, we have to make sure that it is being done fairly and reasonably, however - that is not the case here within K-pop fandoms. In fact, online justice campaigns have been known to decimate the lives of innocent people.
From anonymous accounts sending violently detailed death threats to those who’ve shared dissenting opinions about BTS - the largest Korean pop group in the world, to releasing the personal information of other K-pop fans online and putting their privacy and security at risk, K-pop fandoms aren’t the safe spaces and unsung heroes that the media likes to portray them out to be.
The rise of online vigilantism and cyberattacks is not new to other K-pop fandoms, however; due to the fact that BTS are a global phenomenon and the BTS ARMY fandom are estimated to have over 50 million supporters alone, it’s without a doubt that they may be treated as part of the cyber threatscape. Social media is a soft power and for anyone, including fans to have it at their disposal, this soft power can have negative impacts, as Boris Cipot, a senior security engineer at Synopsys said to Davey Winter for Forbes' 'Meet The New Anonymous—100 Million BTS ARMY And K-Pop Stans, A Cyber Force To Be Reckoned With?' article.
He goes on to add, “One of the biggest threats I see is if bad actors leverage [BTS’s] popularity for their personal gain” and that is exactly what is happening here. With hackers parading themselves as defenders of BTS, they are falling back on the premise that they are exposing the personal information of those who they don’t deem appreciative of BTS for the benefit of BTS and are leveraging their devotion to them as a means to attack innocent people.
When I asked about how these recent doxxing attempts against Black women made her feel, Jay, also known as @QuxnJay on Twitter said, "It was really frustrating and infuriating, especially when I realized that all the attempts were just ploys to attack and harass Black women. It felt like another moment of Black people not being able to move in spaces the same way as everybody else just because we’re Black. It really angered me to see my mutuals and their mutuals be targeted and forced to go the extra mile to protect themselves."
Digital vigilantism involves direct online actions of targeted surveillance, dissuasion or punishment, which tend to rely on public denunciation or on an excess of unsolicited attention, and are carried out in the name of justice, order or safety. This, in relation, to doxxing, has also been around for years in which “doxxing” - a slang term amongst hackers that comes from the idea of collecting the documents, or “docs,” on a person, usually a rival or their enemy.
The reason why the risk of getting doxxed is so traumatizing for many is because more serious cases have resulted in women in the gaming industry being subjected to harassment both offline and online, making false reports and prank calls to summon police to a person’s home, and even death threats against that person. So, with that being said, doxxing turns data into a weapon.
In fact, doxxing leading to “swatting” is a common effect where doxxers call in a false emergency or threat to one's home address requiring the response from a SWAT team. Information security journalist Brian Krebs was swatted and the target of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on his website with all of this taking place within the span of 24 hours.
Doxxing used to be a tactic used in subculture websites like 4Chan and Reddit, however it has become something of a mainstream phenomenon, especially within online Korean pop communities.
People often wonder if the collective cyber power that was once in the hands of Anonymous prior to its core members being arrested now sits in the hands of K-pop fans. An example of this is how K-pop fans were able to mobilize during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this year to submit fancams and flood The Dallas Police Department’s iWatch Dallas app who were trying to receive tips on protestors, bombarding hashtags with K-pop related memes and videos, including the #WhiteLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter hashtags that were in direct response to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, and registering for hundreds of thousands of free tickets for Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so that people would think the rally would be packed when in reality - it wasn’t. However, this display of digital activism is turning in on itself and resulting in K-pop fans using these tactics on other K-pop fans and innocent people.
According to Daniel Smith, a security researcher at Radware, he believes that there is no doubt that K-pop stans and the BTS ARMY can be considered the new Anonymous. He said, "They present the same risks and challenges to the threat landscape as Anonymous did in their prime.”
Recently enough, there’s been an aggressive surge of anonymous accounts who have gone on to dox and leak the personal information of people who are deemed "anti-fans or enemies" to BTS (even if they are actually fans of BTS). When someone is pinned as an “anti-fan” of BTS, a target is immediately placed on their back and both their privacy and security become a playing field for these hackers. BTS teamed up with UNICEF for an anti-bullying campaign, so the fact that fans are going against this message to subject others to violent and deadly cyberbullying tactics is counterproductive to BTS' core values.
In a recent conversation with 106andSeoul, a Black-owned podcast that discusses the ins and outs of Black culture, pop culture, and K-pop, they shared with me:
“To be honest when this whole Gossip Girl doxxing thing appeared, I kind of laughed it off. I was pissed, but mostly annoyed because it was exclusively targeting Black K-Pop fans in the name of fandom. Nothing about it seemed genuine. It was being done over Korean pop music, particularly one group which I found interesting given their message. Fandoms are extensions of groups but not always extensions of said groups’ projected beliefs whether real or curated. Seeing people trying to justify it on Twitter was another headache because suddenly morals went out the window once again over K-Pop. If anything, I felt sad for them not having much outside of this. This is stupid Twitter fandom stuff. In due time people will see that none of this truly matters.”
This system of doxxing has been going on for awhile in K-pop fandoms, but for the past month, aggressive hackers have resurged and are now only targeting Black fans of K-pop. An account by the name of @ANONARMY11 (who had Anonymous as their profile picture) spread the personal information of several Black, K-pop fans that they deemed antis of BTS. They even released a fan's home address with their phone number blurred out with the caption saying, “To be nice, I blocked out a majority of the address on this screenshot. The next few antis I expose, it will not be nicer. This is just the beginning.”
After being mass-reported, their account was suspended, but a new account arose just a day later by the name of “@PurgetheAntis” who used a profile picture of the mask worn in the Purge film series. @PurgetheAntis messaged people with things like, “If you continue to speak on BTS, I will dox your whole family.”
This is when people really started to see the pattern of the demographic of fans that were being exposed and how this is more of a racist, online attack than anything else. This account also targeted a few other Black, K-pop fans and released not only their full government names, but their city information, as well. The account went on to message other Black, K-pop fans who have been wrongly accused of being BTS antis with messages like “This is what happens when you talk down to me” and “You think you’re undoxable but I have it all. You get your own post tomorrow night unless you agree to deactivate this account and never come back as a BTS anti.”
Once this person who was eventually mass-reported and suspended, two new accounts rose again and this time, it was worse than the last two. They went on their spree of releasing the personal information of multiple Black K-pop fans under the name of @friendandfoe1 (and you can check the Web archive of their tweets here), but allegedly - rose again even stronger as @xCjdnXMkdmXKDS, except this time - it is believed that they were using a script to not make it possible for people to follow or block them. All of these recent attacks have led to fans trending #StopDoxxingOverKpop and #ProtectBlackStans in hopes of bringing awareness to what has been going on.
Here are some examples of how this Anonymous person was attacking and doxxing Black women they deemed antis of BTS, but I did NOT include screenshots of people getting doxxed or their private information:
Here are screenshots of @xCjdnXMkdmXKDS coming back, admitting that they're ARMY, running a script to make it impossible to block them, and then pledging to further attack Black, K-pop fans.
Here is what some people from fans to journalists had to say about this online terrorism tactic:
The very obvious pattern here, and one that people are afraid to admit, is that K-pop is attracting an unprecedented amount of followers, however - some of those followers may include social misfits, outcasts and obsessed consumers who have deviant tendencies. These fan communities are built on parasocial interactions between the Korean celebrities and the fans, but what is supposed to just be a relationship built on support and admiration leads to unbridled devotion and obsession. This idea of feeling a connection with celebrities appears to be a pervasive part of fandom culture and I've talked about this in full detail on my Youtube channel.
I also reached out to a Black woman named Mika who has been and continues to be on the receiving end of violent cyber attacks to the point where people have been trying to hack into her social media pages for uploading an image and calling out the violent anti-blackness in it that fans have been circulating for fun, between Blackpink's BLINKS and the BTS ARMY. Just as a warning, know that the photo is incredibly insensitive, dehumanizing, and includes the image of the unjust execution of George Floyd. Rather than for people to call out why these displays of anti-black racism are NOT funny and should not be normalized online (or offline), they told her to delete the images so they don't ruin the reputation of the idols mentioned.
When asked how she feels about how this culture of doxxing should change within these online K-pop communities, she said, "I think doxxing needs to be denounced and should not be normalized any longer. I think there need to be SERIOUS repercussions. None of that 'slap on the wrist' nonsense. Doxxing can get someone KILLED." As of October 10, 2020, she has deactivated her account.
While some K-pop fans simply enjoy the fan experience and may use K-pop as a vehicle for developing a connection and bonds with other fans, other fans live vicariously through the lives of these Korean idols to the point where they feel personally inclined to go above and beyond on behalf of them, even if that means resorting to destructive behaviour. They are dangerously emotionally invested in the livelihood of these celebrities that they don’t know.
A user who reached out to me under the alias ‘M’ who did not want the negative attention or backlash from this statement said, "I feel it’s sad that some K-Pop stans feel it’s their “duty” to “protect” their faves from ANY form of criticism at all cost. These doxxing attempts are putting real people and their families at risk. The fact that these “fans” care more about making sure their faves’ reputation is “clean” and not about those they dox at risk of losing their job in the middle of a pandemic speaks volumes.”
M carried on to say, “also, their intense desire to only target Black women, a minority group already under constant attack and abuse, also speaks to their depraved mindset. Newsflash to these stans: Your fave will not marry you because you showed the personal information of someone who didn’t like your K-Pop faves’ song. Get a life."
South Korean pop culture has grown in popularity all over the world and it has become a major driver of global culture and thanks to the high quality content that comes out of the Korean pop music industry from the top-notch choreographies to the addictive songs, it continues to grow worldwide. However, if the online fan communities of this industry continue on this path of destruction, not only will it unfairly and negatively brand all consumers of this music scene as deviants, but it will blow back on the Korean music industry, as a whole.
There are already hundreds of entertainment companies, hordes of foreign investors, and tens of millions of fans all focusing their attention on Korea right now for various reasons, so will the Korean pop music industry’s rise be derailed by the dangerous and potentially deadly practices taking place within the online fan communities strongly dedicated to it or will it continue to grow internationally despite that?
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