Election 2020

Trump 'played' by K-pop fans and TikTok users

Following Saturday’s abysmal turnout, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed Black Lives Matter protesters outside the BOK Center

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US PRESS GROUP

K-pop fans and users of TikTok claimed tickets to Donald Trump’s Saturday night rally in Tulsa then did not use them, as part of a coordinated effort which helped to leave hundreds of seats empty in a 19,000-capacity venue.

As reported by the New York Times, the scheme stemmed from a 11 June tweet from the Trump campaign promoting free registration online and via cellphones. The scheme exploded on the TikTok app, where young users implored followers to join in.

“Trump has been actively trying to disenfranchise millions of Americans in so many ways, and to me, this was the protest I was able to perform,” Erin Hoffman, an 18-year-old New Yorker, told the Times, adding that she reserved two tickets and persuaded a parent to book two more.

Following Saturday’s abysmal turnout, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed Black Lives Matter protesters outside the BOK Center for the small crowd, claiming they “even blocked access to the metal detectors, preventing people from entering”.

In a statement on Sunday, Parscale rubbished reports of the TikTok campaign, criticised reporters and insisted attendance had been dampened by “a week’s worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of Covid and protesters, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire”.

But politicians and analysts, many with children who participated, confirmed the scheme to disrupt the rally.

“He was played by young people and K-pop fans who ordered tickets with no intention of going,” said Joy Reid of MSNBC on air, following Trump’s speech.

As Trump and his campaign gloated that more than a million tickets had been requested, on TikTok, young people shared screenshots of themselves using Tulsa-area zip codes to reserve seats with no intention of showing up.

“It spread mostly through Alt TikTok, we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism,” one user told the Times.

“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.”

Users of the popular social media sites have often sought to thwart conservative campaigning by far-right accounts. In recent weeks, for example, hashtags supporting “Blue Lives Matter”, a movement in support of police officers, were co-opted by fans tweeting memes of famous blue characters like the Smurfs and Captain Planet.

New York Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took a shot at Parscale while thanking Korean fans for their diligent trolling.

“You just got rocked,” she said, “by teens on TikTok who … tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during Covid.

“KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice.”

The Trump campaign pushed back, accusing Ocasio-Cortez of encouraging a foreign-owned platform to interfere with US elections and politics. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

In a statement, Joe Biden’s campaign denied playing any role in the social media effort.

“Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him,” said a spokesman, Andrew Bates.

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