How Self-Appointed Vigilantes are Exploiting Policy Loopholes to ‘Police’ BTS’ ARMY
BTS ARMY take over Twitter to share incidents of hate and terror, telling a greater story of the systemic misogyny and homophobia still prevalent in society
For decades, boy bands and their fans have faced scrutiny laced with homophobia and misogyny. This is especially true for K-pop groups, who face the added burden of xenophobia and racism. With K-pop becoming a household name across the globe, fans no longer have the privilege of enjoying their favorite group’s music without having the added responsibility of educating others on the difference between musical criticism and deep-rooted bigotry—a shocking yet common exercise still prevalent in 2021.
Based on discourses happening on Twitter over the last week, several members of the Bangladeshi ARMY (fans of the South Korean group BTS) have expressed concerns over the harassment they have faced, both online and offline, for supporting the group. In a viral video shared by Twitter user @meowz_lil, a couple of men on a motorbike are seen harassing a woman (presumably an ARMY) by howling insults targeted at the band. What’s even more incredulous is the fact that this video wasn’t shot by a bystander—it was filmed by one of the harassers in broad daylight, an indication of pride surrounding their actions.
“I saw the video on Facebook,” user @meowz_lil tells Rolling Stone India over DM. “I saw my other ARMY friends posting it and decided to tweet about it. When I asked one of them where they got it from, they informed me it’s from TikTok.” While the video was removed from TikTok, it was circulated on Twitter and garnered attention from fans all over the world.
In response to the unwarranted harassment the Bangladeshi fans experienced, and to show their solidarity and demand reforms, the BTS ARMY trended #EndViolence and #EndViolenceAgainstWomen on Twitter. Some fans reiterated BTS member SUGA’s words, “The truth is that our fans get a lot of criticism just for being an idol fan, but they’re amazing people,” the rapper expresses in a clip from the group’s many YouTube vlogs titled BTS Episode. He continues, “To be honest, just because you like [an artist] does not mean you can put up with that.”
The hashtag quickly took over worldwide trends and saw many fans from other parts of the world share their harrowing stories of harassment for supporting BTS. Many have also come forward to talk about the mockery they experienced from their friends and family for supporting the septet, leaving them feeling alienated.
“It’s normal in Bangladesh,” @meowz_lil confessed. “I get harassed by haters online. No threats but a lot of hate comments for being an ARMY. All ARMY are harassed by them [trolls].” When asked why she thinks BTS and their fans are constantly targeted, @meowz_lil gives a nuanced understanding of the socio-political climate of the country, “Bangladesh is a Muslim country and BTS don’t follow the same faith. Some people also think BTS members are gay and promote homosexuality. You’ll often see people posting photoshopped videos and pictures to give rise to hate. We would defend them [BTS] only to receive hateful comments in return.”
Homophobia and toxic masculinity continue to be the root of malicious acts of hate and irrational governance by self-appointed vigilantes as well as authorized bodies. In September, the Communist Party of China released strict guidelines outlining the reforms its people must abide by. Announced by the National Radio and Television Administration, the guidelines stated a ban on broadcasts by “vulgar internet celebrities” and “feminine-looking men” as they don’t reflect and uphold the values China wants to promote.
Around the same time, the BTS ARMY in Pakistan saw peculiar actions taken against their fandom activities. On September 1st, the Pakistani BTS ARMY in Gujranwala city displayed a billboard advertisement to celebrate BTS member Jung Kook’s birthday. The two-day campaign comprised an outdoor advert that said ‘Happy 24th Birthday’ accompanied by a photograph of the vocalist from a press conference held on the release day of the band’s second all-English single, “Butter.”
Despite acquiring prior approvals from the Chamber of Commerce, the billboard was taken down after it was noticed by Furqan Aziz Butt—a provincial assembly candidate and member of the Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islam. Citing BTS as a “negative influence” that encourages the youth of the city to “behave in wrong activities,” the billboard was removed after 24 hours. “They promote homosexuality,” Butt added, explaining his actions.
Of course, this toxicity is not limited to Asia. Earlier in February, a German radio host was called out for his horrific racist remarks. Speaking about BTS’ widely popular cover of British rock band Coldplay’s “Fix You,” the radio host couldn’t quite fathom how the group was invited on the prestigious MTV Unplugged; “These little pissers bragged about covering ‘Fix You’ from Coldplay,” the host bellowed. He then went on to call BTS “some crappy virus that hopefully there will be a vaccine for soon as well,” all while holding his grounds on not being xenophobic because he has “a car from South Korea”.
In the virtual world, Team Copyright—a tacky and sordid attempt at mimicking the decentralized international hacktivists, Anonymous—is ‘cleaning the cyberspace’; basically, a sugar-coated term for suppressing freedom of expression. The self-appointed vigilantes brand themselves as a “non-profit organization of Bangladeshi cyber security analysts working towards removing adult and atheist content.” Driven by their motto, ‘We work for humanity, we work for cyber security,’ the group has been taking down BTS fan accounts by exploiting the loopholes in Twitter’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
In a carefully orchestrated takedown, Team Copyright would create multiple fake accounts and websites to upload photographs used by BTS and their fan accounts. Once uploaded, the trolls would backdate each photograph, positioning themselves as the original owner of the content. The doctored proof would then be shared with Twitter, leading to several fan account owners receiving DMCA notices or account suspension for the unauthorized usage of copyrighted content. The elaborate workings have resulted in the loss of multiple fan accounts and the temporary deletion of BTS members SUGA and RM’s selfies on the group’s official Twitter account.
“It shows us how easy it is to game the system—trolls are now misusing tools created by Twitter to protect people,” Mayukh Majumdar, Content Strategist at Filmfare comments on the situation. Last year, Majumdar had written a piece about BTS and masculinity for Rolling Stone India‘s November 2020 BTS Collectors Edition and how the group are shattering the boundaries society sets for men. “Unfortunately, it’s another battle that BTS fans have to face. First, they were treated like children who didn’t understand music and then they had to watch their idols be asked stupid, cringeworthy questions on English chat shows.”
Established on June 7th, 2021, Team Copyright’s Facebook page is managed by five users—three of whom reside in Bangladesh, while the rest operate out of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Gloating about the various copyright takedowns on their Facebook page, the group claims to take extreme measures of restrain against BTS accounts to maintain ‘purity’ within the society; “We previously suspended BTS, their official Twitter account with 5.5 million followers,” the group gloat in a Facebook post, referring to septet’s account dedicated to the game BTS WORLD. The account has since been restored by Twitter, who did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone India’s request for comment.
The post went on to defend Team Copyright’s malicious act and attempted to explain the subpar reasoning behind their actions: “Many want to know why we are cyber attacking them. We have suspended their accounts because they are supporting g/a/y and atheist fans. Those are really toxic. We will basically destroy the toxic fanbase from now on.” Poorly morphing their rationale as one stemming from freedom of expression, Team Copyright hilariously contradicted themselves in the same breath, “We don’t want to attack anyone’s choice. Everyone can have their own choice. But we are always against toxic fans.”
After weeks of unwarranted actions on BTS and their fan accounts, Twitter is finally revoking the falsified claims, giving full access back to the respective account owners. Team Copyright, however, plans to continue taking down fan accounts and content across social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook to help keep “social media and all cultures intact and pure.”
“It isn’t something new we’re witnessing when it comes to homophobia against BTS. But this coordinated attack is worrisome,” Majumdar weighs in on the ongoing digital attacks. “It’s no longer a troll comment on Instagram but the way they’ve gone about it—creating spoof websites and backdating articles to establish a copyright strike—is scary, but I also find it amusing that someone would go to such lengths to showcase their caveman mentality. Like these people literally made a committee to harass people when they could have just muted the words ‘BTS’ and ‘ARMY’ on Twitter if they didn’t like it.”
K-pop idols have always displayed the courage to question what masculinity actually means. From gender-bending wardrobes to delicate make-up looks and painted nails, they continue to shatter societal norms, creating a space for fans to experience liberalism. This goes against everything that’s expected from the average cis-gendered man and their conditioning. Like most South Asian countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are heavily suppressed in Bangladesh, giving rise to extreme repulsion against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Seeing K-pop idols and their fans follow non-archaic ideologies is, to some people, an attack on masculinity, making a mockery of an average cis-gendered man’s tools of illogical rebellion. With visual proof documenting their rebellion, Bangladeshi men were seen holding signs that read ‘BTS is gay’, a feeble attempt to demean and insult.
It’s all smoke and mirrors at best. Shifting the spotlight on the lack of ground realities, Majumdar elucidates on how despite being free from British rule, many South Asian communities still exhibit a feudal mindset; “What I find funny is that the English found Indians and other Asians effeminate. They thought white men were the pinnacle of masculinity,” he says. “Now that BTS and other artists have changed that notion, it is only expected that the white man will object. But it is sad to see Indians and other Asian people hating on BTS. If only they read up on their own history, they’d realize they’re still colonized. The white man may have left, but their colonies in our minds are still very much there.”
With K-pop becoming bigger every passing day, many Internet users have decided to hop onto the wagon of ‘K-pop hate’ for their two minutes of virtual fame. Posting ill-comments against K-pop leads to an uproar from fans and likes from those who share a similar mindset, giving troll accounts the engagement they crave. In the world outside of the Internet, peers may display a similar hatred for K-pop to either seem relevant or get a few chuckles out of people around them. The latter being the case exclusive to bullies who’ll go to any extent to make their peers laugh at a fan’s expense.
“I simply don’t think it’s just because of music preference. If you go through certain pages on social media, especially on Facebook and Instagram along with Twitter, you see how the reaction towards this particular group [BTS] is,” Monica Yadav, Senior Entertainment Journalist at Bollywood Hungama, reflects on why the septet and their fans continue to be targets of hate. “It is much more than that. It is the deep-rooted homophobia, as well as misogyny, something we often face in South Asia—the need to control women on what they can and can’t like.”
In the case of Bangladeshi ARMYs, the hate has almost nothing to do with musical criticism. Trolls and bigots are firing bullets of misogyny and homophobia off K-pop groups’ shoulders, especially BTS’. There’s usually a cycle to these acts which begins at home. To deal with trolls and misguided groups such as Team Copyright, we need to be less regressive and more flexible about the archaic ideologies of love, masculinity and gender roles. We must hold each other accountable for malicious acts of hate and question whether the propagandistic ideologies fed to us are truly for the better or a mere tool to enforce a tainted definition of purity and freedom.
Yadav offers an alternate solution in the shape of policy reform, “In India if you are being harassed, sent threats, especially rape threats, we have the authority to file a cyber complaint. But when it comes to minors, their families are involved and not many take it forward,” she explains. “The policies that each of these social media platforms has, especially Twitter, should be helping people when they are being harassed constantly. What I feel is just like we have spam or junk mailboxes, there needs to be a dashboard of sorts filtering out these online abusive remarks, threats and targeted harassment, so a certain account owner can keep a record of them. This I think will help people report and agencies can review these posts and take action.”
BTS themselves however, pay no attention to all the hate. “Even now somebody’s… my ears are really itching because somebody’s hating, right now… on Twitter or anywhere,” BTS’ leader RM commented at the 2020 Grammys red carpet. “We have our fans and they purple us and with that, we can get over anything.” Irrespective of the ill-founded acquisitions or bigotry packaged as expert commentary, BTS– together with their fandom– will continue to pen down brand new chapters in the history of pop culture. A fitting example of this comes from last evening, where the South Korean septet became the first Asian act to win ‘Artist Of The Year’ at the American Music Awards. In many ways, ‘First Asian Act’ is BTS’ middle name– they’re the first K-pop act to receive a Grammy nomination, first Asian act to spent eight consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, first K-pop group to have a Korean single at the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and so on. They’re megastars-turned-diplomats with an unending list of achievements that gives a gist of the exciting future that lays ahead of them– regardless of the trolls that crawl on the path they’ve paved.