A ‘big data analysis’ of social groups involved in the protests points to the genre as a foreign influence
Anti-government protests in Chile have been raging since October, fuelled by claims of wide inequality, wage disparity, and failing social services such as education and health.
Though President Sebastián Piñera agreed to an April referendum on overhauling the country’s constitution – a key demand of the protesters – on Friday (December 27), clashes with police have carried on and fires have continued to break out across the capital, Santiago.
The continued anger might have something to do with the fact that Piñera has also publicly called many of the videos showing police brutality in the protests “fake news”, as well as putting some of the blame for the unrest on outside influences using data from a new report, including… K-Pop?
Here’s an explainer of what’s going on, and what the government’s “big data analysis” (and K-Pop) have to do with it.
A BIT OF CONTEXT
On October 18, a coordinated fare evasion campaign by students in Santiago escalated into a full-blown riot, with protesters damaging city infrastructure and burning down at least 11 stations. Since, the protests – fuelled by class disparity and inequality, but also the violent response of authorities – have grown even further.
On October 25, over a million people took to the streets to demand Piñera’s resignation and in November political parties agreed to vote on reforming the country’s constitution, written in 1980 under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The UN has called for the prosecution of police and army members following their violent response to the protests, the Guardian reports, including “unlawful killings and torture”.
AND WHAT DOES BIG DATA HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Continuing a trend we’ve seen throughout the decade, demonstrators have made substantial use of social media for communication and activism during the protests. A 112-page “big data” report, released through Chile’s Ministry of the Interior and published by La Tercera December 21, attempts to break down the users and their influences, by looking at a reported 60 million comments.
K-POP WAS ONE OF THE INFLUENCES OUTLINED IN THE REPORT
Some of the results revealed by the analysis are pretty unsurprising: young people, for example, are the biggest group and are “highly influenced” by digital media, but mainly use social media to question the “death toll” and “human rights violations”, and protest against media silence. What does seem pretty weird is the specificity of calling out that “they are fans of K-Pop”, placing the genre alongside Russian news networks and celebrity activists as a foreign influencer.
K-POP FANS SEEM TO DISAGREE
K-Pop Twitter has pretty much exploded with pictures of K-Pop artists and fans wearing hammer and sickle symbols, holding their copies of The Communist Manifesto, but there’s little evidence of any direct influence on actual political events. Lots of memes and confusion, not many calls to action. The South Korean news agency Yonhap has also chimed in, calling the link “controversial”, while also acknowledging the parody posts that it’s spawned.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t some difficult-to-find minor accounts using a K-Pop platform for political messaging (campaigners across the world have undeniably cottoned on to the value of harnessing memes and culture for political gain). But right now this definitely looks more like scapegoating a musical subculture – as we’ve seen plenty of times before – because it’s more convenient than acknowledging the necessity for widespread social and economic reforms.
my goverment just accused kpop fans of being the one who organized the sociopolitical revolution here in chile...................... NDJDKDJWJDBDJDBDBFF I WISH I WAS JOKING— vi luvs tae (@starlitjjk) December 22, 2019