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The year of the stan: How the internet's super fans went from pop stars to politics – NBC News

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In March, after France entered into lockdown as the first wave of the coronavirus throttled the nation, Lorian De Sousa turned to Twitter with nothing but time on his hands.

De Sousa, 20, a devout Smiler, the moniker given to fans of the pop singer and actor Miley Cyrus, created the account Out of Context Hannah Montana, posting random scenes from the iconic Disney Channel show.

The account now has more than 65,700 followers.

“Everything really started back in April, when I randomly posted that ‘Hannah Montana’ scene, which we can see Miley’s character leaving her childhood home. … And today it’s basically, in a very subtle way, one of the biggest Miley stan accounts on Twitter,” De Sousa told NBC News.

Even as the account’s momentum gathered this spring, De Sousa never anticipated it would become a vehicle for activism and political engagement.

This year though, as political and social issues dominated the discourse in the United States while the pandemic ravaged nations around the globe and forced more people into digital spaces, stan accounts — accounts devoted to a pop star or celebrity — both in the U.S. and abroad used their platforms to support or influence issues like Black Lives Matter and the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

On Twitter, stan accounts like De Sousa’s are prolific, acting as unofficial publicists, de facto PR teams and crowdsourced gossip columns for the stars they follow. At any given moment, there are dozens of accounts dedicated to a certain singer, rapper or star, with these super fans trying to suss out the artist’s next appearance, when a new album will drop, sharing their favorite photos and meticulously tracking and comparing sales and chart positions of albums and songs.

Of the half-dozen stan account managers who spoke with NBC News, most said having a large, mostly like-minded audience allowed them to mobilize their followers to participate in social and political issues this year. They also credited the pandemic with pushing people online, where they were more likely to encounter stan accounts.

The phrase “stan” is typically credited to the 2000 Eminem song “Stan,” in which the rapper depicts a fan who is obsessed with him to the point of madness.

Like De Sousa’s status as a Smiler, stans also typically have a sobriquet associated with the star they follow. Lady Gaga stans are Little Monsters, Taylor Swift stans are Swifties, Ariana Grande stans are Arianators, Nicki Minaj stans are Barbz (short for Barbies), BTS stans are called Army and Beyoncé stans identify as part of the Beyhive.

But the relationship between stan and star goes both ways, with stans mobilizing to the point of sometimes influencing celebrity behavior.This mobilization around stars and celebrities can sometimes go too far and result in bullying and even racism in the community. Stans have also been critiqued for appropriating Black culture such as African American Vernacular English, or AAVE.

The summer of stans

Prior to the pandemic and the social unrest of the summer, 2020 began with stan accounts behaving as normal.

Little Monsters managed to leak “Stupid Love,” the lead single from Lady Gaga’s album “Chromatica,” weeks ahead of the song’s official release. Rihanna Navy, fans of the singer Rihanna, hunted for clues about if and when the artist would release her ninth studio album. Swifties celebrated the singer making the cover of the January 2020 edition of British Vogue.

But after the death of George Floyd in May, stan Twitter rallied behind Black Lives Matter and the protests against anti-Black racism.

“Of course I participated in a lot of movements this year, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. I remember my account taking a completely different meaning during these days, during that time. … Even though I’m French and from Paris, I really felt concerned about these movements,” De Sousa said. “So during, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to share my usual content in such a crisis.’”

Although all different kinds of stans joined together to support those fighting for equality, in many cases, K-pop stans, fans of Korean pop music, helmed the support by trolling those who stood in opposition to the movement.

“Fandoms are built on these characteristics that make them perfect activists and creators for change,” said Nicole Santero, 28, a sociology doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, studying the culture and social structure of the BTS Army fandom, arguably one of the most influential stan groups in the world. Santero is also a fan of BTS and runs the Twitter account ResearchBTS, which has more than 90,000 followers.

This year, K-pop stans hijacked racist hashtags, flooding hashtags like #whitelivesmatter with nonsense or unrelated images. Online police tip lines were inundated, in part, with images of K-pop groups and in some cases had to be shut down. Later in the year, K-pop stans went on to flood the #MillionMAGAMarch hashtag, a demonstration in support of President Donald Trump after his unsuccessful bid for re-election, with pictures of pancakes.

“Mobilizing on social media is super easy for fans,” Santero said. “They essentially do this every day. So taking over these racist hashtags and trolling politicians, it’s kind of this super tiny example in comparison to bigger, real world, positive impacts that fans actually make..

In June, BTS and their record label Big Hit Entertainment donated $1 million to support the Black Lives Matter campaign. In approximately one day, their fans matched that amount.

“Word spreads so quickly in these networks. We really see how quickly fans can come together and take collective action. In terms of what we saw this year, K-pop fans and BTS fans definitely gained a lot of attention, especially with their involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement,” Santero said. “They’re very aware of the power they have.”

While Santero said K-pop stans weren’t trying to be political in their activism, some experts say the act of engaging in an issue like Black Lives Matter, though outside the typical U.S. political binary of left and right, is inherently a political act.

“Everything you do that is personal is political, meaning that everything you do is informed by some systemic or political ideology,” said Casidy Campbell, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan who studies the internet, technology and Black girls. “If I as a Black person or anyone can offer a critique to what you do, there is something political in what you did.”

Politics and stans

As the protests marched through the nation in June and the coronavirus continued to ravage the country, Trump was preparing to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

His supporters who planned to attend were encouraged to reserve tickets online. But once corners of the internet like stan Twitter got word that tickets could be reserved for free, they seized on the opportunity for a troll.

Although it’s unclear if stans and TikTok users, who had teamed up for the troll, had any effect on the rally’s low turnout, they still took a victory lap on social media.

As the election approached, stan accounts used their platforms to advocate for certain candidates.

“We were actively tweeting ‘vote blue,’ so people were engaged,” said Moyin Sekoni, 17, who helps run Doja Crave, a stan account for singer and rapper Doja Cat. “And that was just the icing on top, when Doja put on her Instagram story that she voted.”

In most cases, the political leaning of a stan account will take its cues from the values and public stances of the star the account is stanning.

“It just shows our fan base, the stans, we can all rally behind Gaga and talk about her music, but we can also rally behind the same causes because Gaga is passionate about them, too,” said Jake Phillips, 19, of Los Angeles, who runs a Lady Gaga updates Twitter account. “I think it’s important because I have this small following that other people can find these resources from my account, as well.”

Stans in 2020 used their influence for causes they believe in and have earned praise from some for their role in helping move social issues forward. But stan culture itself has long wrestled with toxic and problematic behaviors, which include racism, appropriation of Black culture and bullying.

Under a microscope in the mainstream

Although stan culture made the leap from an online niche group to the mainstream after its involvement in the social and political issues of 2020, the spotlight of this year has also laid bare the issues that have long plagued stan culture — especially on social media.

Moyin said she’s witnessed racism and bigotry in the stan community, sometimes in the form of “troll accounts,” which are accounts created only to incite a mob against those who a stan feels has wronged their favorite icon.

“They’ll put Lady Gaga as their profile picture and then they tweet out mean things, racist, xenophobic things so people be mad at Lady Gaga,” Moyin said, describing an example of the impersonation and racism that takes place in the stan community.

Santero mentioned that many K-pop fans actually prefer not to be identified as stans because of the often negative connotation stans have earned over time.

K-pop has been plagued by accusations of appropriating Black culture, for example, wearing Black hairstyles like braids and cornrows, “talking Black” and even wearing blackface, according to Vox.

In recent months, white and non-POC stans in the community have also been scrutinized for appropriating African American Vernacular English, or AAVE.

“The language gets appropriated, and often there’s no sort of recognition of where it comes from. It becomes gimmicky. It can almost come off as a caricature of Black folk,” Campbell said. “On top of that … you get access to different opportunities or you’re thought to be funny when really your idea of how you use language really isn’t that original.”

Campbell said there is a Catch-22 when it comes to stan culture, especially as stan culture moved into the political realm this year.

Stans supporting movements that are pushing for equality and an end to systemic oppression is appreciated, but the effort has to be more than a one-time event — especially when so much of the culture is rooted in Black culture.

“There’s a line you have to be aware that you’re crossing. When are you being influenced and when are you taking on too much?” Campbell said.

All of the account managers who spoke to NBC News acknowledged the toxicity that exists in the stan community. But many said they wanted to find ways to continue to advocate for causes they believe in, saying their participation in social and political issues won’t end in 2020.

“I plan to use my account to support political activities again in the future. That’s something that I really want to do. That’s still something that I still do right now, when I see something that I don’t feel is right, or that I really want to lay the stress on, like a social issue or anything,” De Sousa said. “I just want to use my account to lay the stress on that and just to make more people aware of what’s going on.”

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Omdahl: Politics: When enough Is enough – INFORUM

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North Dakota Republicans own the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch of state government, lock, stock and barrel. But having absolute power at the state level is not enough politics for some who now want to open up county, city, township, school board and other local offices to partisan elections by starting with an innocent marking on the ballot of party preference.

A strong two-party system is necessary for a democracy to function. There are policy issues streaming from voter ideologies that must be resolved. Local governments make secondary decisions, most of which are tightly controlled by state legislation. In reality, local governments are administrative units of the state government.

One advocate of partisan elections pointed to all the money local governments spend. He apparently wants to apply a more conservative financial system to local government. Apparently, he hasn’t been around enough to know that local finances involve mostly “sunk” costs or state regulations that permit local governments limited financial flexibility.

Other than creating political opportunities for the two parties, what are the benefits of a partisan system at the local level? A more conservative spending ideology?

Local governments in North Dakota are pretty clean. Our governments are small; almost everyone in the county knows what is going on in the courthouse, including the unofficial as well as the official. About the only transgressions committed in local government are long coffee breaks.

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For sure, partisan elections will not make local governments more effective, more efficient or any more honest.

In fact, they will do just the opposite.

Local offices will be flooded with junior politicians who will see public office not as an opportunity to serve the public so much as a stepping stone to some higher partisan office.

Partisan ballots will generate new levels of conflict in local governments as parties fight for offices or as party loyalists fight each other to gain a rung in the political ladder. Everyone will spend more time campaigning and less time serving the public.

With politically-minded partisans running local government, how often will political considerations be uppermost when choices have to be made and priorities established? Will politics decide on highways? On arrests? On human services?

Partisan ballots will eliminate at least half of the county officials. Even if they are Republicans, the partisan atmosphere day-in and day-out does not fit their idea of public service. In some local governments, ambitious partisans will run against incumbents regardless of party.

Many local officials do not have competition because the public is satisfied with their service. Partisan elections will create competition where competition isn’t necessary and it will force any officeholders to raise new money for races they never had in nonpartisan offices. There will be new personal costs to serving the people. That will discourage present officeholders.

With the rancor permeating both parties at present, this is hardly the time to bring that sort of partisan disease into local governments that have been performing so well. When it comes to partisan politics, at some point we must say that enough is enough. Enough.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum’s editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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Biden sworn in as president, calls on Americans to 'end this uncivil war' of political division – NBC News

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Amid a devastating pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States shortly before noon on Wednesday, pledging to unite the country and calling on Americans to end the “uncivil war” that has fractured the nation.

In a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that kept with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden took his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of Covid-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just two weeks after the deadly riot at the Capitol.

In an impassioned address, Biden repeatedly stressed the need for unity, calling it the only “path forward.”

“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide are deep and they are real,” he said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization.”

“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward,” he said.

Jan. 20, 202102:31

“The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do,” the president added a moment later.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts — if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes,” he continued.

Biden vowed to move quickly to address the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse, racial justice and climate change.

He also repudiated the mob that had attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and promised he would be president for all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him.

“With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools, we can overcome the deadly virus,” he said. “We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again a leading force for good in the world.”

Jan. 20, 202102:35

And he explicitly vowed to “confront” and “defeat” the “political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism” that were given oxygen to grow during the Trump years.

Temperatures were in the low 40s in the nation’s capital, with strong winds. Snow flurries dotted the air as Biden took to the lectern.

While Biden did not once mention Donald Trump by name, his 21-minute speech served as a powerful rebuttal of his predecessor.

Biden’s refutation of Trump was especially apparent when he, in the opening words of his speech, reflected on the fragility of democracy, and indirectly referred to how Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election nearly shattered the country.

“Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy,” he said.”We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile, and, at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

He also called on the nation to “reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured” — an implicit criticism of a predecessor who frequently lied and relied on misinformation to advance his own political and personal agendas.

As is tradition, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, administered the oath of office to Biden just before the clock struck 12. Biden, only the second Catholic to be elected president, besides John F. Kennedy,took the oath with his hand on top of his 127-year-old, 5-inch-thick family Bible, which will be held by his wife, Jill Biden.

Moments earlier, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court.

At 78, Biden is the oldest president to take office. And with his inauguration coming just two weeks to the day after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, the stakes for his inaugural address couldn’t have been much higher.

His swearing-in cemented Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. That, however, isn’t likely to make Biden’s job any easier. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House, and their control of the 50-50 Senate is only thanks to Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote as vice president.

In addition, he takes office with none of his designated Cabinet heads yet confirmed by the Senate, and with an impeachment trial of Trump — regarding his role in inciting the mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol — set to begin imminently, something unlikely to contribute to bringing down the temperature of the country’s divisions.

In attendance at the scaled-down ceremony were most members of Congress and the Supreme Court and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their spouses, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

Among those who were not present was Trump, making him the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years. As he left the White House on Wednesday morning, he told reporters that serving as president was “the honor of a lifetime” and claimed that “we’ve accomplished a lot.”

Trump and his wife, Melania, then participated in a send-off ceremony before a small group at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, where the outgoing president said about his exit, “hopefully, it’s not a long-term goodbye.”

“We will be back in some form,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One for the last time to fly to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. “We were not a regular administration.”

Jan. 20, 202102:28

Trump, who spent months falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from him, also wished his successors good luck — although he never referred to Biden or Harris as the president or vice president.

“I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular,” he said.

He left Biden a note before he left the White House, as is custom, the White House said. The contents have not been made public, although Biden, later Wednesday after he entered the White House, told reporters it was a “very generous letter” but declined to discuss it further.

Because of the pandemic, only about 1,000 people attended the inauguration, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said. In normal times, the committee makes 200,000 tickets available for members of Congress.

Extra security precautions stemming from the Capitol attack included over 25,000 National Guard members who were called up to keep the event secure and extra security fencing erected near the Capitol. In addition, the White House and numerous streets were completely shut down.

The Nation Mall, usually flooded with thousands of spectators to witness the quadrennial event, was also closed — instead dotted with flags to represent Americans watching from home as the public was not invited to attend this year’s ceremony due to Covid-19. Even the lawn at the base of the Capitol, typically reserved for elected officials and their guests, was restricted to a limited number of people this year.

Inside the West Wing earlier Wednesday, White House residence staffers and Secret Service agents appeared to be starting the well-choreographed, yet frantic, changeover from one administration to the next. The process was even more taxing this year, since workers won’t have the usual amount of time afforded, given the cancellation of the inaugural luncheon and traditional in-person parade.

Following the inaugural ceremony, Biden and Harris participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, before receiving an official escort to the White House. Once there, Biden immediately began signing executive orders designed to undo many of the hallmarks of Trump’s tenure.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden told reporters Wednesday night inside the Oval Office. “We’re going to start by keeping the promises I made the American people.”

Those were slated to include measures to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, repeal Trump’s restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, stop construction of the Southern border wall and mandate wearing masks on federal property.

He will also use his first day in office to propose a sweeping immigration reform bill, a lofty legislative task his administration has decided to take on from the start.

Adam Edelman reported from New York and Lauren Egan from Washington.

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Group forms to support women in politics in Grey-Bruce – Owen Sound Sun Times

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The organization hopes to see at least one woman elected to each of Grey-Bruce’s 17 municipal councils in 2022. During the last municipal elections in 2018, every municipality except South Bruce had at least one woman elected. But women still only make up 28 per cent of the municipal politicians in the two counties while accounting for more than 50 per cent of the total population.

Merton said there is definitely an opportunity for improvement.

“If our focus is to increase the number of women to better represent our population then we have some work to do,” she said. “In different municipalities there are different percentages.

“We have some work to do for sure, to move towards that gender parity, and then to sustain it.”

Merton said the goal of the group is to not just get women to run and get elected, but to keep them involved in politics.

“There is a need to continue to have forward momentum to have more women to run for council, be successful and then once you are there continue to do well and thrive,” she said.

“Ultimately our goal is for women who have been elected to a first term to consider a second and third term and then to consider running for a position more than a councillor, to run as deputy-mayor or mayor.”

Along with encouraging more women to get involved in municipal politics locally, electHER also plans to provide the support and guidance to candidates through training, networking and mentorship programs leading up to the next municipal election in the fall of 2022. The first training session is slated for mid-March.

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