Asian community accuses TikTok influencers of performative activism

TikTok+influencers%2C+the+North+Star+Boys%2C+pose+in+front+of+a+Stop+Asian+Hate+sign.

Sanjna Sood

TikTok influencers, the North Star Boys, pose in front of a Stop Asian Hate sign.

Woom Sing Tse was shot 22 times in broad daylight, only a block away from his home. Eight months after being attacked, Yao Pan Ma passed away from severe head injuries. Two weeks later, a homeless man pushed Michelle Alyssa Go onto subway tracks in Times Square. She died instantaneously. 

As the world mourned the loss of such precious and innocent lives, some chose to protest, and many took the grim opportunity to shed light on America’s persistent Asian hate crimes

Yet others used the Stop Asian Hate movement for clout, according to accusations from the online Asian community.

The North Star Boys (NSB) are a collective of Asian content creators, with a following of 4.8 million on TikTok. They have become infamous for their “pick me energy,” with most of their content centered around thirst traps and their physical appearance.

“They aren’t the only TikTokers making this type of content, but I know the Asian community has called them out before for playing into harmful Asian stereotypes,” Linda Lin, a junior, said.

One Instagram post, in particular, sparked excessive controversy. On Dec. 31, 2021, the group uploaded photos of them posing in front of a Stop Asian Hate sign. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by NSB (@northstarboys)

Since then, many have accused the boys of performative activism — surface-level activism for personal gains rather than genuinely helping the cause. People began making sarcastic comments such as, “I’m so grateful that the North Star Boys just ended racism,” and TikToks emerged mocking NSB’s actions. 

Jonathan Nguyen, a senior from the East Coast, felt that NSB naturally received backlash for reducing the hate crimes Asian people face worldwide to something as shallow as a photoshoot.

“The intentions in some form may have been good, but if they wanted to use their platform to speak on the issue, it should have been informative,” Nguyen said. “This picture literally just looks like Stop Asian Hate is a fun little backdrop for them to use.”

On Jan. 6, NSB uploaded a YouTube video addressing the situation. The boys explained that they just wanted to spread awareness and show support for the movement. In the video comments, many expressed their support for the boys. 

Comments under NSB’s YouTube video demonstrate support for the boys. (Alice Lan)

However, NSB member Oliver Muy’s words near the end of the video once again sparked outrage.

“To those who are making videos mocking us, I want to as you to ask yourself, what are you doing for the movement? Because what it seems to me is that you’re hating on us for trying to do something,” Muy said.

In the eyes of the Asian community, this was a form of gaslighting and denying accountability. Many believe NSB has a platform that ordinary people don’t and can educate others on the Stop Asian Hate movement much more effectively than by posing in front of a sign. 

We’re not trying to be performative activists. We don’t gain any more views, more likes, or any money from the post that we made. We did it because we wanted to show support for the movement.”

— NSB member Kane Ratan

“If they wanted to make a real impact, they would have content that includes spreading awareness regarding Asian hate crimes and what people can do to support those affected instead of glamourizing the movement,” Lin said. “Not to mention when they addressed the controversy, they were inconsiderate of other Asians’ experiences and completely avoided responsibility.”

Those with massive platforms set an example for the wider population and are subject to additional responsibility. The North Star Boys are not the first influencers to receive criticism for offensive actions, nor will they be the last.

“We don’t go around giving influencers backlash for no reason,” university student Jason Wu said. “We do it for them to learn and hopefully do better in the future.”