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Trolls Targeted BTS Fan Accounts With Phony Copyright Claims Because They Support LGBTQ Rights

"Team Copyright is always trying to keep cyberspace safe and beautiful,” claimed the group, which spent its time filing fraudulent copyright infringement notices.

Last updated on November 20, 2021, at 12:45 p.m. ET

Posted on November 20, 2021, at 11:41 a.m. ET

The members of BTS stand together in a line, most of them waving
The Chosunilbo Jns / ImaZins via Getty Images

BTS attends a press conference May 21 in Seoul.

BTS fans were inundated with copyright infringement notices that got their accounts booted off Twitter — but the complaints didn’t come from the chart-topping K-pop group. Instead, a Facebook group of trolls, who are based in Bangladesh and called themselves “Team Copyright,” weaponized these nuisance claims as a tactic for censorship and harassment.

It was an elaborate scam that made mass-reporting campaigns look quaint; these self-styled online vigilantes saved pictures from BTS fans’ accounts, reposted them to their own websites or Flickr accounts, and changed the date so it predated the original upload. They then reported the fan for “stealing” their image in a fraudulent copyright claim to Twitter, often resulting in getting their account suspended or slapped with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice.

Why did they do this? Well, as the group explained on its public Facebook page, it’s because the BTS fandom is “toxic” due to its support for the LGBTQ community and atheists. Previous posts on the page showed that members of Team Copyright have also made ableist comments and targeted a sex worker.

“Many want to know why we are cyber attacking them. We have suspended their accounts because they are supporting g/a/y and atheist fans,” said a Facebook post on the Team Copyright page after it temporarily got an official BTS Twitter account removed. “We will basically destroy the toxic fanbase from now on.”

Team Copyright statement of why it's targeting BTS fans, whom they label toxic because they support "g/a/y and atheist fans": "We don't want to attack anyone's choice; everyone can have their own choice, but we are always against toxic fans"
Team Copyright / Via Facebook

In its Facebook group of more than 800 members, Team Copyright coordinated its complaints and celebrated its takedowns. “Team Copyright is always trying to keep cyberspace safe and beautiful,” the group description proclaimed.

And it’s not just fan accounts — even the official BTS Twitter account was targeted. Selfies of BTS members Suga and RM were taken down from the platform after being reposted online by these trolls. The photos were later restored after BuzzFeed News reached out to Twitter.

The trolls created multiple sites, including “dailybbcnews.com,” where they reuploaded the selfies and claimed them as their own content.

After BuzzFeed News reached out to Facebook about the group targeting people on social media, the Team Copyright page was removed.

Fans are frustrated, particularly because some of the reported content is so obviously not the property of these bad actors.

“I think it’s pretty telling in and of itself that someone was able to successfully claim my avatar and a picture of BTS holding their passports as their own and in the process, be able to successfully suspend the account,” said @charts_k, whose fan account has over a million followers and was suspended in October after a copyright claim by Team Copyright.

Twitter did not clarify if copyright claims were viewed and evaluated by people or simply by automation. Twitter declined to comment to BuzzFeed News for this story.

“I’m not sure if Twitter has automated this process, but there definitely should be more surveillance regarding this,” said the user behind @charts_k, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of doxing. “It should not be that easy to get suspended off of baseless things like this.”

Someone takes a picture of a masked person standing in front of a photo of BTS
Goh Chai Hin / AFP via Getty Images

A fan of South Korean K-pop boy band BTS poses with a giant poster of the band members at a shopping mall in Jakarta on June 21.

Another fan account with several hundred followers noticed the copyright claim scam happening and tweeted about it. He then found himself retaliated against in the same way, resulting in his Twitter profile photo being removed after a fraudulent copyright claim was made.

“When I made that thread against them, I knew fully well they'd do something of the sort,” the fan account's owner, who asked to remain anonymous so that he would not be targeted by trolls, told BuzzFeed News.

The Team Copyright Facebook group appeared to consist mainly of profiles of men from Bangladesh. Members of the troll group used Facebook to pick their target and choose which BTS fan Twitter account they would harass and file fraudulent copyright claims against, as well as brag about which ones they’d gotten suspended.

The online harassment started in September on Facebook when a page for Bangladeshi BTS fans started receiving disturbing messages after misinformation went viral that claimed BTS were anti-Muslim.

A Bangladeshi BTS fanbase account told BuzzFeed News that once the Team Copyright group realized that BTS fans mainly used Twitter, it moved its harassment over there.

They added that there have been multiple smaller pages made on Facebook to organize similar harassment targeting BTS fans.

“We do not tolerate bullying and harassment because it prevents people from feeling safe and respected on Facebook. We have removed this Group and Page for violating our policies,” said a spokesperson from Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

Another BTS fan whose Twitter content was removed after a fraudulent claim (they asked to remain anonymous for fear of doxing) said as frustrating as it was, at least their experience made people aware of the harassment campaign.

“It's still unfortunate that they did manage to take those down, but I'd rather think outside of that angle and see it more as ‘taking one for the team,’” the anonymous fan said. “The thread gets traction over time, and more people get to know some of the people behind those shenanigans.”

Reporting the abuse, though, can pose real-world dangers to these fans. That’s because filing a DMCA “counter-notice” on Twitter requires filling out a form — with full name, home address, email, and phone number — which is then sent to the person who reported them. Many accounts are choosing not to appeal so as not to hand their personal information over to their harassers.

BuzzFeed News tried contacting Team Copyright through phone numbers listed in the DMCA notices, but the calls did not go through.

This is hardly the first time DCMA takedowns have been weaponized to dox users, with digital artists raising similar issues in May.

Dozens of accounts owned by ARMYs, or BTS fans, who are predominantly young people of color, have been targeted on the platform seemingly at random. An update account, BTS Daily Info, had its Telegram channel spammed with porn after it began tweeting about the attacks against them.

I still feel so terrible for the spam in the telegram channel/group earlier this morning.. they were only spamming p*rn*graphic gifs but also those with g*re (i found out hours later from my other moderators – they spammed over 3.5K+ gifs at one point).

Twitter: @btsdailycontent

Despite editing the photo themselves, the Australian BTS fan account @BTS_Aus was hit with a copyright strike on an image it had posted. Initially, the user worried it might have been based on a real complaint from the group’s label.

“But then when I found out that it was another group of people targeting ARMY, I was frustrated — but also, sadly, not surprised,” @BTS_Aus told BuzzFeed News. “ARMY have been a target of malicious intent for years. But what they never remember is, we always come back stronger.”

Many fans have proactively taken steps to protect their accounts but are still finding themselves targeted by the trolls. In one eyebrow-raising instance, @btsvotingorg changed its Twitter header image to plain yellow and was still hit with a copyright claim.

“Copyrighting. A. Color. Hilarious,” it tweeted in frustration.

Steffi Cao contributed to this report.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.