Asia-Pacific News

North Korea Takes to Social Networking

By Song Jung-a, Financial Times

North Korea has turned to Twitter and YouTube to step up its propaganda struggle with South Korea and the US as the isolated state comes under growing international pressure since the sinking of a southern warship.

@Uriminzok, a Twitter account believed to be updated by the North Korean government.
Source: Twitter

Although curious web surfers have been checking out Pyongyang’s offerings, North Korea’s intended message may not be getting through, with South Korea blocking links from northern tweets and some viewers posting mocking comments on the videos and messages.

The US, however, welcomed North Korea’s move into the social media, with the State Department adding that Pyongyang should allow its citizens free access to the sites. North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive nations, blocks internet access for most of its 24m citizens, although it has a cadre of elite hackers.

Uriminzokkiri, a website run by North Korea’s propaganda agency, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, last week announced the launch of the Twitter feed and of a channel, or dedicated section of videos, on YouTube. The Twitter feed, under the name Uriminzok, “our nation” in Korean, has attracted more than 6,000 followers in less than a week as curious social networkers rushed to get a peek into messages from the Hermit Kingdom.

Urimizok on Wednesday tweeted dozens of messages linked to official propaganda reports on Uriminzokkiri. The Korean messages, which echo Pyongyang’s official news media, threaten “merciless retaliation” against South Korea and the US, calling them “warmongers”. A recent Twitter post by North Korea compared South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to a “prostitute of the US”.

Users in South Korea who try to follow links on North Korea’s Twitter messages receive a warning against “illegal content” and have been blocked from following links from the tweets to Uriminzokkiri.

“People would have to bear in mind that they could be violating the law when they tweet with the account,” said Lee Jung-joo of the South's Unification Ministry this week.

Others seem to be taking the messages less seriously. One viewer, under the user name FRwritings wrote that Kim Jong-il, the northern leader, was “on Twitter to promote his hairdo”.

Seoul currently blocks about 65 websites linked to the North and bans its citizens from communicating with North Koreans directly, but has not blocked access to the YouTube channel, which launched quietly last month, though a Unification official said a legal review is under way on possible counter measures.

The channel now hosts about 100 videos. Recent videos uploaded by the North praise its reclusive leader Mr Kim and vehemently deny Pyongyang’s role in the sinking of the South Korean warship in March.

“Those who enjoy setting flames of war are bound to burn in those very flames,” a narrator says in one video, expressing the North’s anger against the South’s charges that a northern torpedo sank the ship.

Another video claims that Pyongyang possesses nuclear fusion technology, while one calls Yu Myung-hwan, Seoul’s foreign minister, a “pro-American flunky” who should make a living by “mopping the floors of the Pentagon”.

One of the more popular videos has been watched almost 26,000 times. Some viewers are unimpressed. “‘Oh dear leader’ Kim Jong-ill [sic] is such a joke, was a loser,” commented user junkstuff25 to acclaim from other watchers.