Did TikTok teens, K-Pop fans punk Trump’s comeback rally?

Empty seats are visible in the upper level at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, Okla., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Matt Barnard/Tulsa World via AP)
Attendees cheer while President Donald Trump speaks during his campaign rally at The BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to the crowd at the BOK Center after his first re-election rally in Tulsa, Okla., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World via AP)
An attendee sits and listens to President Donald Trump speak during his campaign rally at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP
President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, early Sunday, June 21, 2020, after stepping off Marine One as he returns from a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Did teens, TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music troll the president of the United States?

For more than a week before Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in three months on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, these tech-savvy groups opposing the president mobilized to reserve tickets for an event they had no intention of attending. While it’s unlikely they were responsible for the low turnout, their antics may have inflated the campaign’s expectations for attendance numbers that led to Saturday’s disappointing show.

“My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America’s teens,” veteran Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted on Saturday. The tweet garnered more than 100,000 likes and many responses from people who say they or their kids did the same.

Reached by telephone Sunday, Schmidt called the rally an “unmitigated disaster” — days after Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale tweeted that more than a million people requested tickets for the rally through Trump’s campaign website.

Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, said the turnout was a sign of weakening voter support. “Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him,” he said.

In a statement, the Trump campaign blamed the “fake news media” for “warning people away from the rally” over COVID-19 and protests against racial injustice around the country.

“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 wrote. “Reporters who wrote gleefully about TikTok and K-Pop fans — without contacting the campaign for comment — behaved unprofessionally and were willing dupes to the charade.”

READ MORE: Trump suggests U.S. slow virus testing to avoid bad statistics

On midday Sunday, it was possible to sign up to stream a recap of the Tulsa event later in the day through Trump’s website. It requested a name, email address and phone number. There was no age verification in the signup process, though the site required a PIN to verify phone numbers.

Inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center in Tulsa, where Trump thundered that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” numerous seats were empty. Tulsa Fire Department spokesperson Andy Little said the city fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the arena.

City officials had expected a crowd of 100,000 people or more in downtown Tulsa, but that never materialized. That said, the rally, which was broadcast on cable, also targeted voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

Social media users who have followed recent events might not be surprised by the way young people (and some older folks) mobilized to troll the president. They did it not just on TikTok but also on Twitter, Instagram and even Facebook. K-Pop fans — who have a massive, co-ordinated online community and a cutting sense of humour — have become an unexpected ally to American Black Lives Matter protesters.

In recent weeks, they’ve been repurposing their usual platforms and hashtags from boosting their favourite stars to backing the Black Lives Matter movement. They flooded right-wing hashtags such as “white lives matter” and police apps with short video clips and memes of their K-pop stars. Many of the early social media messages urging people to sign up for tickets brought up the fact that the rally had originally been scheduled for Friday, June 19, which is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Tulsa, the location for the rally, was the scene in 1921 of one of the most severe white-on-Black attacks in American history.

Schmidt said he was not surprised. Today’s teens, after all, grew up with phones and have “absolutely” mastered them, he said. They are also the first generation to have remote Zoom classes and have a “subversive sense of humour,” having come of age in a world of online trolls and memes, Schmidt said. Most of all, he said, “they are aware of what is happening around them.”

“Like salmon in the river, they participate politically through the methods and means of their lives,” Schmidt added.

That said, the original idea for the mass ticket troll may have come not from a teen but from an Iowa woman. The politics site Iowa Starting Line found that a TikTok video posted on June 11 by Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother from Fort Dodge, Iowa, suggesting that people book free tickets to “make sure there are empty seats.” Laupp’s video, which also tells viewers how to stop receiving texts from the Trump campaign after they provide their phone number (simply text “STOP”), has had more than 700,000 likes. It was also possible to sign up for the rally using a fake or temporary phone number from Google Voice, for instance.

As Parscale himself pointed out in a June 14 tweet, though, the ticket signups were not simply about getting bodies to the rally. He called it the “Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x” — meaning the hundreds of thousands of emails and phone numbers the campaign now has in its possession to use for microtargeting advertisements and to reach potential voters.

Sure, it’s possible that many of the emails are fake and that the ticket holders have no intention of voting for Trump in November. But while it’s possible that this “bad data” might prove useless — or even hurt the Trump campaign in some way — experts say there is one clear beneficiary in the end, and that is Facebook. That’s due to the complex, murky ways in which Trump’s political advertising machine is tied up with the social media giant. Facebook wants data on people, and whether that is “good” or “bad,” it will be used to train its systems.

“No matter who signs up or if they go to a rally, Trump gets data to train retargeting on Facebook. FB’s system will use that data in ways that have nothing to do with Trump,” tweeted Georgia Tech communications professor Ian Bogost. “Might these `fake’ signups mess up the Trump team’s targeting data? Maybe it could, to some extent. But the entire system is so vast and incomprehensible, we’ll never really know.”

———

Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press

Associated Press writer Ali Swenson contributed to this story from Seattle.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Donald Trumpsocial mediaTikTok

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock RCMP are searching for Richard John Lewis, who is wanted on warrants for assault and uttering threats. (RCMP handout)
White Rock RCMP searching for wanted man

Richard John Lewis is wanted on warrants for assault, uttering threats

(Photo: Twitter@SurreyRCMP)
Surrey Mounties, pet owners, bracing for Halloween

Last year the Surrey RCMP received 147 fireworks complaints on Diwali and 121 on Halloween

partial graphic used in "Get Serious" campaign by Surrey business groups.
‘Get Serious’ message about COVID pushed by Surrey business groups fearing ‘economic shutdown’

‘Different social media messages will be sent out daily with significant messaging…’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch has issued a decision about the actions of an elementary school teacher in Langley. (Langley Advance Times files)
Langley elementary teacher suspended for grabbing, shoving, yelling at kids

Roxann Rojas will lose her legal authority to teach for two weeks from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, 2020

Most Read