According to a recent Dartmouth College study, BTS was the biggest force that drove better public health outcomes globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While ARMYs often credit BTS as one of the anchors that got them through the bleak times of the pandemic, especially through the bright and upbeat music they intentionally put out during those years, it looks like the group’s influence on propelling public health and safety during that period was just as significant. In fact, it reportedly dwarfed the collective influence of institutions like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), NIH (National Institute of Health), and WHO (World Health Organization).
Herbert Chang, a professor of Quantitative Social Science at Dartmouth College, was intrigued about which public institutions had the biggest voice in public health messaging during the pandemic. The study was conducted when he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California and had access to the world’s largest Twitter data set.
The inspiration for this study sprouted at a personal level when Chang noticed that many people around him during the COVID-19 lockdown depended heavily on digital content to stay afloat. Though he was unfamiliar with the world of K-Pop back then, his co-author, Becky, was a fan. It was also the time when BTS blew up globally due to the commercial success of their music and the social advocation roles they took up, including speaking about mental health during the pandemic at the United National General Assembly.
When the researchers started analyzing quantitative data about online communications related to public health and safety, they realized that BTS was the biggest and most effective driving force to get the message across.
In a recent interview, Chang gave a brief example of the dataset analyzed in the study. He pointed out that the head of the WHO used BTS in his tweets a total of 16 times during that time, and there were 2000 other tweets with similar messages but without any mention of the K-Pop mammoths. The difference in reach between the former and the latter sets, Chang said, was 111 times.
His 16 tweets that did contain BTS generated around 200,000 retweets. His other tweets generated about the same amount as well. From this, we can see that the increase in in virality, just by adding them, was more than 111 times.
— Herbert Chang
Chang confessed that while he expected BTS to have a sizable presence among the other public figures and institutions that had influence over public health messaging at that time, he never thought they would actually be proven to be the biggest among them all.
But it’s not just BTS’s own influence as public figures that drove these numbers. Chang noted that the strongly connected community of their fans contributed toward carrying BTS’s messages to newer depths.
Also, one of the things we looked at was how strong their communities are. We can imagine social media networks as just networks, users are connected to users. We could basically measure the strength of these communities as well using social network analysis algorithms.
— Herbert Chang
When the interviewer asked if BTS’s fan community was restricted only to hashtag activism or if it extended beyond the scope of the keyboard, Professor Chang responded that their online activity was matched with in-person actions. He pointed out the several donation drives led by ARMYs, the fanbase of BTS, including their USD 1 million dollar donation to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
Once the pandemic hit, a lot of concerts that BTS held were canceled. The fans online organized themselves to donate, basically, these refunds to different causes. One is the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Also to UNICEF as well. And this summed to more than $3 million or $4 million in total donations, often all in the span of a few days. This is all from from this type of grassroot organization from using social media.
— Herbert Chang
According to Chang, the influence that BTS have displayed on their fanbase and inspired positive action during the pandemic could be a learning point for other nonpartisan influencers to affect well-meaning changes in people’s lives.