North Korea's propaganda playground
Who is the latest star user of social networking tools like YouTube and Twitter? Let me nominate an unlikely candidate: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea likes to style itself. Perhaps the world's most repressive and closed country, it's set forth on a surprising journey into new media, with a YouTube account and a Twitter feed at @uriminzok.
On a quiet news day, I tapped into the North Korean tweets this morning - and found that most of them were in Korean, leaving me none the wiser. Sticking one block of text into Google Translate produced this: "Great Comrade Kim Jong Il started his revolutionary leadership..."; I think you get the flavour.
But what really caught my eye was a link to this extraordinary YouTube video. As a colleague put it, it seems to be a kind of Korean West Side Story, and could end up as a viral hit.
What, though, is the point of this activity for a repressive regime that does not allow its own citizens to use anything but a sanitised version of the internet? The answer, it seems, is to wind up South Korea, and it seems to have worked. The South Korean government warned its citizens away from the propaganda on the North's Twitter and YouTube accounts, then tried to block access to them.
Some hoped that web 2.0 would be all about setting the masses free to express themselves. But for some governments, the likes of Twitter and YouTube just provide another propaganda playground.