Are K-Pop Stans the Future of Activism?

Plus: Why Study Complexity?, Yak Gig-Board Prototype, and Upcoming Events

This week we continue our #trends-and-futures, and #complexity tracks in the newsletter. Next week, we will return with our regular #online-governance-studies track, as well.


Are K-Pop Stans the Future of Activism?

By Alex Wagner

On June 20th, US-based members of the Korean-Pop fan community, colloquially known as “K-Pop stans”, trashed a Trump rally in Tulsa, OK

Sadly, this was not the long-awaited first appearance of Antifa supersoldiers, as continually promised by right-wing pundits.

In this instance(and what has shown to be typical w/r/t “K-Pop activism”), the stans coordinated their efforts completely online. Over the course of weeks, the members of the K-Pop fandom flooded the Trump campaign’s online sign-up forms for the event with fake names, email addresses, and telephone numbers.

Claire Ryan(@aetherlev), a technologist with a background in marketing and data analysis, opined that the Trump campaign would likely have to throw the whole data set out, as it had been “poisoned” with the false accounts.

Media outlets lauded the ingenuity of the K-Pop stans, and speculated as to whether the stans would make continued appearances leading up to the election, and beyond.

The history of K-Pop activism actually spans back to at least the late 2000’s, and is much richer, and more nuanced, than the “online savior” angle advanced by mainstream publications.

A Hyperbrief History of K-Pop Activism in America

Some facts:

It may seem obvious by now, but what makes the politically-active subset of K-Pop fans so cohesive, is that it’s members spend a lot of time together online.

“I think these young people who are learning today how to use social networking services to do so many things in terms of organizing are going to be a very significant political force in the next decade or so because they know how to organize, how to reach each other, make goals and accomplish them and so much is happening without a single person or overarching leader who is being paid to organize.”

CedarBough Saeji
(aka “The K-Pop Professor”), Professor of East Asian Studies at Indiana University

It’s worth noting that, with the exception of sports, fandom subcultures have historically been dismissed as unserious, odd, and for a young audience. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that the K-Pop community has its own internal conflicts and problematic actors, just like any community.

In the last week, the Trump campaign canceled upcoming rallies in Tallahassee, FL and New Hampshire over fear of a repeat rout

In the future, what other online fandoms will we see entering online public arenas to shape the political futures of nations?


Why Study Complexity?

By Matthew Sweet

Complexity has been studied for upwards of fifty years. The study of systems goes back even further (to the roots of Eastern and Western philosophy, if we wish to be completely inclusive). There’s already an abundance of maps, frameworks, concepts, models and terms, and even more enter the discourse every day. Additionally, each has its own stubborn champion. 

Why has the study of systems and complexity been so persistent? If complexity is what emerges when nature, technology and time collide, how can learning about it help? 

Over the years, the study of complexity has unearthed insight about group formation, cohesion and disintegration in different contexts. It has uncovered some of the mechanisms behind collective decision making and the effective coordination of action in a variety of arenas. It has taught us about feedback loops, higher order effects and legibility

Such insight helps us creep towards proactivity and away from reactivity. It helps us navigate risk, skirt ruin, and seize opportunity. But not all complexity-related knowledge is created equal.

There is a difference between creating an accurate map and effectively navigating a territory. A truly accurate map has a surprising amount of detail. But navigating more effectively, as members of the Yak Collective are trying to do, requires only a sufficient amount of detail

For non-academics, complexity studies is useful to the extent that it allows us to accumulate sufficient detail and make decisions. For example: in the Yak Collective's Discord server, a consensus related to complexity has emerged. One that is in accordance with a tenet of Agile: "working software over comprehensive documentation." It is the utility of loose heuristics over explicitly formulated rules. 

Last week in Yak Talk, Yak Collective member Praful Mathur mused that, "it seems complexity is also a matter of ‘I know it when I see it.'" In complex systems, it's not always possible to pin down why something works (or doesn't). But it is possible to pick up that knowledge and use it advantageously.

In the midst of a pandemic, and with climate change on the horizon and great economic uncertainty looming, it's likely that forays into the study of complexity can offer us ideas for navigating these unprecedented times.

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The Yak Talk team for this weeks edition is: Alex WagnerGrigori MilovShreeda Segan, Praful Mathur, and Matthew Sweet.