What’s the internet like in North Korea?

Posted on April 18, 2018


A rib-tickling story emerged last week of an internet jokester who managed to direct visitors to a North Korean state-run website to a Twitter page making fun of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un. The piece of mischief was the work of an online tomfool known as Cyber Anakin, who noticed that the site was linking to a Twitter page with an incorrect handle, so set up a page with that handle for just about the most inappropriate means possible.

This piece of high-jinks might not go down too well in the secretive country, but what is the North Korean internet experience like? In a country that generally likes to isolate itself from the rest of the world and heavily regulate all media, how does it cope with something as vast and unregulated as the internet?

An interesting introduction to the way the media works in North Korea is to visit the website of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The stories are all positive, most of them praising Kim Jong-un, his late father and former leader Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather Kim Il-sung, who is still deemed to be the country’s ‘Eternal Leader’ even though he died in 1994. Even this recent story about a Korean University in Japan beginning its academic year couldn’t come to an end without telling us how great the three of them are in bold letters.

The very fact that this is what we get from a publicly available, English language North Korean website gives an indication of what the web is like for the average North Korean. In fact, for the average North Korean, it’s not only a mystery, but possibly something they have no idea even exists. You have to have special authorisation to use the web at all in the country, so it’s usually only government ministers and foreigners who do so.

Overall, the country’s entire tech sector is shrouded in secrecy. Giants like Apple, Microsoft and Sony are forbidden to operate there, and major sites like Facebook and YouTube are blocked, as are all sites from South Korea.

The top level domain .kp has only been in use since 2007, and there are just nine known .kp top level domains in existence. One of them is the KCNA, and another is the website of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Overall, the North Korean internet reminds me a lot of my school’s intranet system in the 1990s. Every page was dry, full of text, watermarked with the school logo and only ever talked about the school itself. In much the same way, North Korean websites are self-referential, self-praising and assume that nobody would want to know or hear anything about the outside world. Its internet set-up gives us a quirky and somewhat sad snapshot of what life must be like in this intriguing totalitarian state.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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