While mainstream media reports on North Korea focus on heavy subjects like its nuclear programme or internal power hierarchy, young defector YouTubers feed a growing demand for softer news related to daily life in their former home country.
Wearing a fedora, Jang Myung-jin shouts “Hello, comrades!” as he begins his YouTube broadcast, titled “A North Korean man, Tango”. Video clips uploaded on Jang’s YouTube channel showed him saying that ordinary North Koreans usually raise dogs, rabbits, pigs and chickens, but to either eat or sell to markets. He also said he never heard about the existence of transgender people in North Korea, though he heard about gay people in the country.
He shares that calling someone “a baby born by a young female slave” is considered a profanity in North Korea, and that people there say “Do you want to have the order of your ribs revolutionarily reorganised?” when trying to intimidate others.
Jang, 32, is among a handful of young refugees in South Korea who have launched YouTube channels that offer a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of people in North Korea, one of the world’s most closed-off and repressive countries. He uses his Samsung smartphone to film himself at his small Seoul flat, and sometimes invites fellow North Korean refugees as guests and has friends shoot him when he ventures out.
Jang, who has about 7,000 subscribers to his two-year-old channel, said he does manual labour and delivers fried chicken as a means of living in South Korea because his YouTube-related income is too small. But he feels it’s worth keeping his YouTube career going because some subscribers have left messages saying his broadcasts help resolve their misunderstandings of North Korea.
“There are people who yearn for real scenes showing how people in North Korea live. There is a niche market for that,” said Jeon Young-sun, a research professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University. Read more