North Korea: The Next Social Media Revolution?

With the recent death of Kim Jong-Il, many analysts have begun to discuss the future of North Korea.  Reportedly Kim’s 27-year-old son Kim Jong-un will be his successor.  Among the many concerns with the totalitarian regime is its blatant lack of free speech and human rights.  However, with this sudden changing of the guard, is there a window of opportunity for radical social change?  Despite the disturbing images of “crying” North Koreans mourning Kim’s death, there might be possible ( and we do say this consciously) signs that the “Twitter/Facebook Revolution” can move from Egypt to North Korea.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), North Korea has been ranked last or second from last (with Eritrea) in their annual press freedom index for nearly a decade.  Most North Koreans are not able to freely use mobile phones or the Internet. Only the political elite and foreign tourists in Pyongyang are granted Internet and mobile access, but even that access is limited.  All media in North Korea gets its news (or propaganda) from the Korean Central News Agency.

UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan made some interesting points about the future of free expression in the country.

Srinivasan said Kim Jong Il recently extended “small olive branches to the rest of the world,” which possibly included greater access to technology and social media.  And here is where the “vacuum” exists.

“A vacuum may allow activists potentially within the country to reach out to the outer world,” Srinivasan said. “It may not be the government that takes the initiative, but instead underground factions within North Korea who reach out to the rest of the world. This may influence the establishment of social networks with other parts of the world.”

In the Reporters Without Borders report North Korea: Frontiers of Censorship, “the growth of an underground economy and the permeability of the Sino-Korean border are two key factors for the prospect of a gradual opening-up in North Korea.”  The report says that North Korean defectors are sending CDs, DVDs and USB flash drives with political content about democracy and human rights from South Korea and the Chinese border via balloons to North Korea.  Sometimes radio sets are sent on these balloons.  North Korean defectors have also launched shortwave radio stations aimed at broadcasting to North Korea, like Free North Korea Radio and Open Radio for North Korea, which are regularly jammed by Kim’s regime.

Dissident journalists also risk their lives to get information out of North Korea.  Rimjin-gang, “a North Korean magazine founded jointly by the Japanese journalist Ishimaru Jiro and a North Korean journalist who uses the pseudonym of Lee Jun, uses information and photos obtained from a network of North Korean journalists.” In addition, “the Associated Press announced in June that it had signed a series of accords with North Korea that will increase its access to the country.”

Although there are many North Koreans who may not have even heard of the Internet, clearly the network of dissidents working to establish more freedoms are at an opportune time in history to take advantage of the “vacuum” and to create a revolution.

Posted in Accountability/Transparency, Asia, Online Journalism, Tech Life and tagged , , , , , , , , .


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