Media reaction to North Korea joining Twitter – updated

North Korea has taken a number of headlines with its arrival on Twitter under the user name @uriminzok.

From AP:

North Korea appears to have ramped up its propaganda war against South Korea and the U.S. by turning to Twitter and YouTube — websites that most citizens of the reclusive communist country are banned from viewing.

The North’s government-run Uriminzokkiri website posted an announcement last week saying it has a Twitter account and a YouTube channel.

More than 80 videos have been uploaded since July to the global video-sharing site under the user name uriminzokkiri. The series of clips include condemnation of “warmongers” South Korea and the U.S. for blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

While a further AP further quotes a senior US official welcoming the country if the move opens internet access to its population:

Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday the U.S. welcomed the “Hermit Kingdom” into the world of social media. But he challenged its authoritarian leaders to allow broad access and warned that technology is difficult to shut down once introduced. “Just ask Iran,” he said. Iran tried but failed to restrict social media during disputed elections.

According to Cellular News the country’s mobile network has expanded though it is unlikely to make a difference to the majority of its citizens:

The North Korean mobile network, koryolink is reported to have expanded its network to several additional cities in addition to the capital, Pyongyang. According to a report in Radio Free Asia, cited by the Korea Times, cities near the border with South Korea have been excluded and high prices will likely preclude the vast majority of citizens from going mobile. The services opened Aug. 1, the report said.

Although IntoMobile rather optimistically states that mobile phones are becoming “popular” cited figures which suggest the country’s total number of mobile subscribers has grown to 60,000 in March 2010 to 184, 531 today.

Despite this increase in phone users – which is near impossible to verify – usage of social networks in North Korea is minimal making the country’s adoption to Twitter an international move as reflect in comments in a Guardian article:

Gilles Lordet, the chief editor at press freedom body Reporters Without Borders, said North Korea’s move into social media is the natural extension of government propaganda.

For people inside North Korea this makes no difference at all. I don’t consider what they’re going to say on their Twitter page as honest or objective, so it’s not something we can welcome,” Lordet said.

This is about the abroad image of the country. Now they’re trying to work on the image of North Korea outside of the country because they have the possibility of the tools, that’s what is new.”

Interestingly, the move to Twitter comes after arch-rival South Korea reinforced its law against its citizens publishing or expressing sentiment sympathetic to North Korea and its regime.

From Korea Times:

Relaying and posting material sympathetic to North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-il on the Internet is a clear violation of the National Security Law, a court ruled Monday.

The Seoul Central District Court sentenced a 40-year old man, identified only by his surname Lee, to two years in jail, suspended for three years, finding him guilty of disseminating documents and songs praising the communist state and its activities. 

It was the first time for an individual to be found guilty of violating the National Security Law for simply uploading a hyperlink on the Internet, which leads those clicking it to documents, songs and other materials lauding North Korea.

Mr Lee isn’t the first Asia to be prosecuted for posting links on the internet.

The Thai government arrested a 37 year old man back in April after he allegedly posted links to content critical of the Thai royal family, a breach of the country’s lese-majeste law. 

These are two examples of internet censorship across Asia which I blogged about in more detail here.

*UPDATE*: it’s been announced that “South Korea has blocked North Korea’s new Twitter account from being accessed in the South, saying the tweets contain “illegal information” under the country’s security laws”.