Which social media does North Korea use

Charm offensive - "Isn't that nice here?": How North Korea uses Western social media platforms for propaganda

"Isn't that nice here?": How North Korea uses Western social media platforms for propaganda

North Korea is considered backward. The country now wants to correct this image and is relying on YouTube influencers. They are used for state propaganda, but also show a picture that you cannot see anywhere else.

"Hello. This is Un A from Pyongyang, ”says the young woman with shoulder-length hair and angular glasses. Sitting at a bare desk, she looks embarrassed into the camera. «My YouTube channel 'Echo of Truth' was recently blocked. Without giving a reason. " Before she speaks fluent English, she takes a deep breath. «The aim with which I started this work was to correct the misleading information about my home country. And I thought I could try to show people what it's really like here. " At the end of the 11⁄2 minute long video, she says: "I hope to see you again soon."

Anyone who has seen the previous clips of this Youtuberin recognizes her immediately, but also notices that she has been changed. Until the end of last year, Un A was making waves with its “Echo of Truth” channel. She has achieved two and a half million video views with her films from North Korea. It is not known why the channel no longer exists. Her recent complaint video about this, in which she blames Google, was uploaded from an account called “De olho na Coreia” (Portuguese for: One Eye on Korea).

There you can also find her older videos, which are always remarkable - if only because they come from North Korea, probably the most tightly closed country in the world, where there is no free press and the population is denied access to the Internet. In her videos, Un A happily walks through a subway station in Pyongyang and asks the camera: "Isn't that nice here?" Another time she eats pizza or goes to a festival with fireworks.

Several channels have recently become popular on various social media platforms that cast a positive light on North Korea. There was the Twitter account @coldnoodlefan, which was also dedicated to depicting everyday life until it was blocked. A seven-year-old girl named Ri Su Jin recently became popular on the Chinese video platform Bilibili, whose videos, in which she plays the piano or runs the household with her mother, are clicked 20,000 times each time. The list goes on.

Hipper Sound and Kim Jong Un in the background

Time and again there is speculation about how authentic these channels are. At first glance, they break every cliché of the Northeast Asian country. So Un A doesn't seem stern, but she struts and smiles all the time. Pictures of Prime Minister Kim Jong Un can be seen, but in the background. The videos are professionally produced, with good sound quality, hip background music and dynamic imagery. And since the people in North Korea can only use a state-controlled intranet, but not platforms like YouTube, it is also clear: Such videos are aimed at an audience that the North Korean state would otherwise use all its power to seal off - the public of the big, wide world .

"This is state propaganda," says Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of cultural studies and Korea expert at the University of Oslo. After all, it is inconceivable in hierarchical North Korea that an important step like the launch of a social media channel could be taken without the consent of Kim Jong Un. The steep hierarchies are also the reason why North Korea has even started to present itself via social media.

Probably even Kim Jong Un got the idea himself while surfing the internet.

Tikhonov, who grew up in Russia but has a South Korean passport, has been following North Korean self-expression for a long time. In the video chat he says with a smile: “If I had to rate the propaganda skills, I would give North Korea a weak B on a scale from A to F, they still create too much personality cult around Kim Jong Un and his ancestors. That scares off. " The reports on successful harvest yields or construction projects, which are dominant in the state online media, are also hardly appealing to an international audience.

In order to operate more successful PR, the North Korean media strategists lack intercultural sensitivity. “But you can tell on social media that they have learned something new,” observes Tikhonov. “In their posts they are now trying to show two things: 'We are modern. And we are out there like you ›." It doesn't work for all types of audiences.

“Is the channel run by the North Korean government?” Asks Hyomin Han, a South Korean arts manager, after watching a video for just two minutes. «She gestures like a South Korean. But her accent sounds like North Korea. " The Youtuber seems like a strategic choice with which one could possibly ride on the global popularity wave of South Korean pop culture. In any case, the news portals NK News and 38 North, which specialize in North Korea, come to the conclusion that the authorities from Pyongyang must have their finger in the game at Un A.

On closer inspection, Un A does not pretend to be the kind of Youtuber you know in the West, i.e. subtle, polemical, indignant. The young woman is clearly acting as an ambassador. In the summer, for example, she went to her old school; Video title: "I missed you." Accompanied by soft piano music, which is soon driven by lively beats, you can see a freshly painted entrance gate and uniformed schoolchildren getting out of the bus. Un A, this time dressed in a white shirt and black skirt for teachers, takes the audience into a classroom full of good children, which does not appear as if North Korea is the poor country that experts and refugees say it is.

It was long overdue for urbane young people to report on North Korea and from North Korea. So far, most of the impressions one can get from the closed country between China and South Korea have come from refugees who have left the north. Politically, these people, whether as human rights activists or activists for the overthrow of Kim Jong Uns, primarily make critical judgments about the country. They emphasize the numerous human rights violations and many features of the shortage economy.

Subscribers are not impressed by the censorship

A Youtube channel like that of Un A is an attempt to distract from these realities and to establish an alternative narrative. And it seems to be working, at least in part. When the “Echo of Truth” channel went online three years ago, there were initially mostly dry, old-fashioned-looking documentary videos. Since the hip films with a front woman appeared, the number of clicks and comments has grown. Un A does not have nearly as many viewers as, for example, the book author Jeonmi Park, who fled North Korea and now lives in the USA, who discusses a much less beautiful everyday page in North Korea on her own YouTube channel.

But none of the once over 40,000 subscribers to “Echo of Truth” are apparently not impressed by the blocking on YouTube. After Un A's complaint video appeared on the “De olho na Coreia” channel at the end of December, 1200 people viewed it.

There are also other channels from North Korea on YouTube. One named “New DPRK”, which does not rely on a single face, but works with changing protagonists, has in the past mainly uploaded videos in the Korean language - apparently aimed at an audience in South Korea. Recently they were also subtitled in English. This channel also has a million clicks.