A new study found that health-related posts that feature K-pop stars, most notably BTS, attract more responses from the general public and have a higher chance of going viral than those that do not.
Published in Online Social Networks and Media in September, the study
, led by Herbert Chang, an assistant professor of quantitative social science at Dartmouth College
, looked into how K-pop
stars helped further spread health-related messages to the public during the height of the COVID-19
pandemic in early 2020 to 2021.
Joining Chang in the study is Emilio Ferrara, a professor of computer science and communication at the University of Southern California, and Becky Pham, a USC
During the study, Chang and his co-authors analyzed around 7 million posts related to mask-wearing and K-pop posted by X users, formerly Twitter, between March 2020 and December 2021. Those 7 million posts were extracted from a massive dataset
of 3.5 billion posts using natural language processing methods.
How they did it:
Through a selection of keywords, the group refined the dataset into subsets that were specific to their study, such as posts with the #WearAMask hashtag, posts from important institutions and figures like World Health Organization
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and posts containing K-pop hashtags like #BTS and #BTSArmy
Besides BTS, Chang and the group also examined posts about BLACKPINK
, noting in the study that they are the “three most prominent K-pop groups on Twitter.”
Their findings: The group discovered that health-related posts featuring K-pop stars received more responses from countries often underserved by Western-based health organizations, such as South America, Central America and Southeast Asia, than posts that did not contain K-pop keywords.
In one of the graphs in the study, the group highlighted that posts with “K-pop” and “Dr. Tedros” as keywords were more popular in Indonesia
and the Philippines
, with 7.3%, 2.63% and 12.9% virality, respectively. Meanwhile, South Korea
saw a much higher virality at 31.9% and 38.4%, respectively, in those two keywords.
Going viral: An example of the phenomenon includes when Dr. Tedros congratulated BTS for the release of their song “Dynamite” on X on Aug. 21, 2020, and thanked them for encouraging their fans, widely known as ARMY, to wear masks. The post amassed over 86,000 likes and 38,600 reposts.
Chang’s group findings go in line with the similar analysis X released
in January 2022, showing that the majority of the top 20 countries posting about K-pop were from South America and Southeast Asia, such as Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, to name a few.
Inside the U.S.:
Meanwhile, the group also found that interior states like South and North Dakota (52% and 41%), Mississippi (39%), Missouri (39%), Utah (37%), Louisiana (37%), Wisconsin (36%) and Nebraska (33%) saw the biggest viral boosts in posts
referencing K-pop, BTS and COVID-19 on X.
The road ahead: In a statement, Chang noted that the results of their study “shows that we can use this as a strategy for targeted interventions.”
“It begs the question,” Chang added, “in addition to mask wearing, can we use this to potentially increase vaccine uptake or even other health prevention practices?”