North Korean social media is not necessarily a combination of words you expect in the same sentence, but North Korean social media exists in many ways. North Korea has (or at least had) its own channels on popular western sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, but also via its own intranet. What’s an intranet? OK, we will jump on that pony later.
Internet in North Korea
OK, so there is an article in which we covered this question in great depth, but whilst North Korea indeed has internet and its own websites, your average citizen does not have regular access. You are unlikely to have many Facebook friends from North Korea. Although it can, and does happen. Note, from, rather than in usually.
To read about the internet in North Korea click here.
North Korea does though have an intranet. An intranet is essentially a closed internet available to a particular group. This has been used for companies, and countries, such as North Korea. Inside this government controlled intranet there are versions of social media. We will get onto them a bit later.
To read about the North Korean intranet click here.
How to classify North Korean social media
We can therefore split the topic of North Korean social media into 4 main areas.
- Social media accounts controlled by North Korea directly (on the world wide web).
- North Korean social media as done by friendly, or linked organizations
- Indirect North Korean social media (done by companies doing business in North Korea)
- Foreigners using social media in North Korea
- Social media in North Korea
We will look at each one individually
1) Social Media accounts from North Korea
In the early 2010’s North Korea began to create various social media accounts on popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as their own websites.
Whilst North Korean websites tend to be mostly political they do cover a lot of other areas, which include tourism.
You can read our guide to North Korean websites here.
Uriminzokkiri is a website that provides Korean-language news and propaganda from North Korea’s central news agency. The website offers translation in Korean, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and English
North Korea on Facebook
The main North Korean Facebook account was named Uriminzok (English: “Our race”). It carried North Korean propaganda, was well maintained and had lots of interaction before of course being banned. There have been numerous other accounts associated with the DPRK, most of which are periodically banned. Interestingly this is not necessarily associated with sanctions, but rather company policy of Facebook. Quite how influenced they are by Uncle Sam is open for debate.
North Korea on Twitter
In 2010 when North Korea first made their major forays into the social media world they also entered the Twittersphere. The government’s official Twitter account is also named Uriminzok (English: “Our race”), much like Facebook. The account gained quick popularity, and a number of followers, but was also periodically hacked. The account currently has 16000 followers and Tweets exclusively in the Korean language.
The most famous North Korean Twitter account now though is that of https://twitter.com/coldnoodlefan?lang=en AKA Cold Noodle Fan. This account has drawn both plaudits and of course controversy. The account is that of a supposedly normal North Korean woman aiming to show how life is in Pyongyang. Because of the controls on the internet it is suspected that the account is government controlled, but regardless it certainly shows an interesting side to life in Pyongyang. If you want to follow a North Korean social media account, it is this one, and probably deserves an article in its own right.
And then there are the non-government accounts that support the DPRK, but which we will deal with in another section.
Twitter diplomacy in North Korea
Whilst we have dealt with North Korean Twitter accounts it is impossible to mention North Korea and Twitter in the same sentence without mentioning the Twitter diplomacy that went from almost starting a war to a budding friendship and two peace summits. There might not be a North Korean social media Twitter scene, but there was certainly an American one during the Trump premiership.
Whatever you think about Trump’s style on Twitter, his messages certainly reached the North Koreans. Few will forget the reply of “dotard” which was certainly a new word for many a lexicon. We were also then treated to phrases such as “fire and fury”. In the end though we finished up with summits in Singapore and Vietnam. Now whilst the success of these are up for debate, it was certainly historical at least. Historical for the fact that the leaders of North Korea and America met, but also that global diplomacy between two nuclear armed states was played out on Twitter. I’ll personally never forget being able to Tweet a picture of the American and North Korean flags flying side by side in Hanoi.
North Korean Social Media – YouTube
Probably the most controversial of all platforms, but not controversial from the North Korean side. The channel named “Uriminzokkiri” was opened in July 2010, by 2017 it had uploaded over 11,000 videos had numerous subscribers, but was eventually shut down by YouTube in controversial circumstances in 2017. Of all the social media platforms, YouTube seem to have been the most gung-ho about restricting content from North Korea. Quite the irony when you consider how much extremist material that does find a happy home there.
2) North Korean social media as done by friendly, or linked organizations
This section basically covers “North Korean Social Media” that is not government controlled, but is largely positive. This could again be split into multiple categories. Chongyron for example is the association of Korean residents in Japan that is pro-DPRK. On the face of things they are independent, but in reality fall into the government fold. You then have other organizations such as the Korean Friendship Association, who whilst claiming to almost be an organ of government are in fact very much a private enterprise. They too run numerous social media accounts and websites that promote North Korea in a positive light.
Below the KFA you then have a number of pro-DPRK groups, and individuals that help promote the country, but in essence without following a strict party line. There are numerous “Juche” styled accounts on Twitter and groups on Facebook that are pro, without being controlled by the DPRK. Two of the mot famous examples would be Comrade Natalie and the DPRK Study Group on Facebook. In fact Twitter is particularly prominent for those with a pro-DPRK outlook.
3) Indirect North Korean social media (done by companies doing business in North Korea)
These are the most interesting ones to us, because they include, well, us. Young Pioneer Tours, Uri Tours, Visit the DPRK, Koryo Tours, and other companies that take tourists to North Korea. We are very much not under the control of the government of the DPRK, but we do certainly promote the country and its tourism sector. We obviously do this in a positive light. We cannot speak for other companies, but we certainly are pro-engagement and pro-tourism to North Korea.
Most if not all of us steer clear from overtly political elements and in some respects could be considered “neutral”, but through our social media can certainly be considered part of the overall North Korean social media scene.
Of course even people such as ourselves garner controversy for our North Korean themed social media. Many accusing us and others of being stooges of the regime.
And when it comes to YouTube, for example it is not just accounts directly linked to the government of the DPRK that have had issues, even travel companies, such as ourselves face restrictions on YouTube related to North Korea. Not to mention threats of hacks because of our links to North Korea. North Korean social media can be a dangerous game, even for ourselves.
The Instagram Scene in North Korea
With 31000+ followers we have the most popular North Korean Instagram channel. Again we are not affiliated with the regime, but we certainly post a lot of great North Korean photos. Pierre Dupont being another person that shows amazing photos of the country, but from a strictly private basis.
4) Foreigners using social media in North Korea
Probably the smallest section, but again a section that does exist. Foreigners that are resident in North Korea have access to the internet via KoryoLink, the state run operator. This led to Associated Press being the first to ever Tweet, or post on Instagram live from North Korea. We also have a North Korean phone, so have done similar. Although much like anything there very much are do’s and don’t’s associated with this.
Whilst not strictly social media, there have also been numerous Russian and Chinese students that have become semi-famous by posting about what their lives studying in North Korea are like.
5) Social Media in North Korea
North Korea might get criticized for its “closed shop” intranet, but it does consist of thousands of websites in multiple languages, as well as the very trappings of the internet that we take for granted. There are North Korean newsgroups, where people can interact and comment. North Koreans have their own e-mail system and there is allegedly their own version of Facebook.
This North Korean version of Facebook, whereby people can post messages and indeed photos, is much like the original Facebook. Some have said the North Korean version of Facebook is called StarCon. This has also been disputed by some, with it being said that “if” it existed it is now offline. Whether the North Korean Facebook is StarCon, or not my North Korean friends have confirmed that North Korean social media is a “thing”. There is though not a North Korean Tinder, before you go getting any funny ideas!
There is also allegedly a North Korean style instant-messaging service, where again people can post pictures and send messages to each other. The North Korean intranet is indeed a lot more in depth- than most people would imagine.
And of course whilst the full blown internet is not available to everyone in the DPRK, it is available to some. There have even been reports on which platforms are the most popular in the DPRK. In general though the preference seems to be more towards Chinese social networks such as Weibo, rather than Facebook, or Twitter,
Any amusing North Korean social media anecdotes…
I am so glad that you asked. I was once at a Mass Dance when a lady I did not know came up to me on a phone and with the help of my guide translating said “Your friend at the Diplo” wants to know if you will go and see her tonight”? I said yes and the message was relayed. My guide looked at me with a wry smile and said “Pyongyang Social Networking”….
And that is the interesting story of social media in North Korea. As always showing the duality of the country. In many ways sharing so many similarities with how we do things in the west, but still being extremely different..