North Korean social media

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In North Korea, where people have almost no Internet contact with the outside world, “North Korean social media” sounds like an oxymoron. But on February 25, Jean H. Lee of the Associated Press became one of the first people to tweet from North Korea when she posted a message on the country’s new 3G wireless network, available only to foreigners.

“Hello world from comms center in ‪#Pyongyang,” she wrote. Lee has since been active from North Korea on Instagram as well, posting snapshots of street scenes, food and government propaganda posters.

Lee is joined in her social media updates from Pyongyang by AP photographer David Guttenfelder, who posts images often to his 71,000 Instagram followers.

As the AP’s bureau chief for both South and North Korea, Lee is the only American news reporter granted regular access to the secretive nation, which she has visited more than 20 times. She offers a rare glimpse of digital life beyond the DMZ.

The country lags behind much of the world when it comes to digital adoption, but there are signs that North Korea is trying to catch up, Lee said. The new Koryolink 3G network — jointly owned by the North Korean government and an Egyptian company — that launched last month marks a shift in policy for Kim Jong Un’s regime, which also has recently begun to allow foreigners to bring their cellphones into the country.

“We are starting to see more openness,” she said. “We’re talking baby steps. They’re a long way from being a free and open society.”

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This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

One thought on “North Korean social media

  1. Grant Montgomery on said:

    When AP bureau chief Jean Lee made her first trip to North Korea in 2008, she had to check her iPhone in at the airport. The press was also tightly regulated. The focal length of a camera lense couldn’t be great than 150 mm, Lee said. Windows on the press’s tour buses were closed and covered with curtains, and soldiers would line the streets, ready to signal officials if anyone on the bus illegally tried to photograph something the journalists weren’t allowed to.

    Now North Korea has launched its first 3G mobile network for foreigners and other high-ranking officials within the country. However, it’s impossible to contact North Koreans unless the government has granted their specific permission. So if a person does not have this permission, attempts to contact them by phone, text messages or emails, bounce back.

    At a question-and-answer panel during the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival, Jean Lee explained, “North Koreans have very limited access to Internet,” noting that North Koreans, like their southern neighbors, have an affinity for gadgets and technology. “People in Pyongyang — the educated — are aware that there’s an international Internet. And there are a lot of North Koreans traveling overseas.”

    A small technology sector is beginning to take root, with some private entrepreneurship occurring because of a growing middle upper-class, people traveling overseas and bringing back hard currency. The market in North Korean technology is software development, Lee said.

    “North Korea and South Korea share an interest in technology, but the countries are going in very different directions.” North Korean officials “spend a lot of time keeping foreigners separate from the local people,” she said.

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