They eat ice cream and read ‘Harry Potter,’ but these North Korean YouTubers aren’t what they seem

Seoul, South Korea

The young woman rifles through the fridge of Popsicles, pulling several out to show the camera.

“This is the flavor of milk – the picture is so cute,” she says in English, pointing to the cartoon packaging with a smile. “And it’s peach flavored.”

After finally choosing an ice cream cone, she bites into it and declares: “The biscuit is delicious.”

The four-minute video has over 41,000 views on YouTube, but it’s no ordinary blog. The woman, who calls herself YuMi, lives in North Korea, perhaps the most isolated and secretive nation in the world.

His YouTube channel, created last June, is one of several social media accounts that have popped up on the Internet in the past year or two, allowing North Koreans to share their daily lives. Claims.

But experts say all is not as it seems in the videos, and that the images show signs that life is far from normal for millions of impoverished people under leader Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship. are

Instead, they suggest, it’s likely that YuMi and others. related to high-ranking officials and may be part of a propaganda campaign aimed at rebranding the country’s international image as a more relevant – even tourist-friendly – place than nuclear weapons. I can recommend it from his constant talk.

Park Seong-cheol, a researcher at the North Korea Human Rights Database Center, said YuMi’s videos “look like a well-produced drama” scripted by the North Korean government.

For decades, North Korea has been relatively closed off from the rest of the world, with severe restrictions on freedom of expression, free movement and access to information.

Its dismal human rights record has been criticized by the United Nations. Internet usage is heavily restricted. Even the privileged few who are allowed smartphones can only access government-run, heavily censored intranets. Foreign material such as books and films are banned, often with severe penalties for those caught with contraband on the black market.

Experts say this is why YuMi – who not only has access to a film-making tool but also to YouTube – is no ordinary North Korean.

“Connecting to the outside world is an impossible thing for a resident,” said Ha Seung-hee, a research professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

YuMi isn’t the only North Korean YouTuber making headlines: an 11-year-old who calls herself Song Ae debuted on YouTube in April 2022 and has already garnered more than 20,000 subscribers.

“My favorite book is ‘Harry Potter’ written by JK Rowling,” Song Ae claims in a video, the first book in the series — especially given North Korea’s generally strict laws. which prohibit foreign culture especially from western countries.

The video shows Song A speaking in a British accent and sitting in what looks like a cute child’s bedroom complete with a globe, bookshelves, a stuffed animal, a framed picture and a pink There are curtains.

Song Ae, reportedly a resident of Pyongyang, North Korea, holds a Harry Potter book in a YouTube video uploaded on April 26, 2022.

Pink pictures of everyday life in Pyongyang. It can also indicate the social status and identity of their creators.

YuMi’s videos show her visiting an amusement park and an interactive cinema show, fishing in a river, working out in a well-equipped indoor gym, and visiting a limestone cave. where young students wave a North Korean flag in the background.

Song A visits a crowded water park, visits a science and technology exhibition center, and films his first day at school.

Park, the expert, says these representations are not 100% accurate – but they are highly misleading, and do not represent normal life.

North Korea’s wealthy elite, such as top government officials and their families, are reported to have access to luxuries such as air conditioning, scooters and coffee. And the amenities shown in the YouTube videos do exist — but they’re not accessible to most people, and are only given to “a very special class of people,” Park said.

These facilities are also likely not open or functioning regularly as shown in the videos, he said. Park added, “For example, the electricity supply in North Korea is not smooth enough to run an amusement park, so I’ve heard that they will only run it on weekends or on special days such as They make videos,” Park added.

People walk on a snow-covered road near the Arc of Triumph in Pyongyang on January 12, 2021.

North Korea is notorious for frequent blackouts and power shortages. According to 2019 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, only 26% of the population has access to electricity. The blackouts were captured in night-time satellite images in 2011 and 2014 that showed North Korea shrouded in darkness, almost blending into the dark sea around it – which is similar to that of neighboring China and South Korea. It’s the exact opposite of bright lights.

YouTubers’ English fluency and access to rare luxuries suggest they are both highly educated and likely related to high-ranking officials, Park said.

Defectors have previously reported that some North Koreans learn British English in their English classes. The British Council, a UK-based organization, also ran an English language teacher training program in North Korea, sending teachers there for more than a dozen years before ending it in 2017.

North Korean propaganda is not new. Previous campaigns have included Soviet-style posters, videos of marching troops and missile tests, and images of Kim Jong-un on a white horse.

But experts say YouTube videos, and similar North Korean social media accounts on Chinese platforms such as Weibo and Blibelly, illustrate a new strategy: relativism.

“North Korea is trying to emphasize that Pyongyang is a ‘normal city,'” Park said, adding that the leadership is “very interested in how the outside world sees them.”

Ha, the research professor, said North Korea may be trying to present itself as a “safe country” to encourage more tourism to its battered economy — especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. after the.

Although it has not yet reopened its borders to tourists, “the pandemic is going to end at some point, and North Korea is focusing on tourism for economic purposes,” Ha said.

Before the pandemic, there were limited options for tours with visitors being herded around the country by Ministry of Tourism guides. The tours were carefully choreographed, designed to show the country in its best light. Despite this, many countries, including the United States, warn their citizens against visiting.

After the pandemic began, “(in North Korea) there was talk of eliminating previous forms of propaganda and implementing new forms,” ​​Ha said. “After Kim Jong-un ordered (authorities) to be more creative in their propaganda, vlog videos started popping up on YouTube.”

A 2019 article in North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sunmoon newspaper quoted Kim as declaring that the country’s propaganda and news channels should “boldly abandon the old framework of writing and editing with established conventions and traditional methods. ”

YouTubers’ use of English may reflect this attempt to reach a global audience. Both YuMi and Song A also helpfully include English names for their channels: YuMi has “Olivia Natasha” and Song A has “Sally Parks”.

North Korea has posted other forms of propaganda on YouTube over the past decade — though its official videos are often removed by moderators.

In 2017, YouTube banned North Korea’s official news channel Uriminzokkiri and the Tonpomail channel controlled by ethnic Koreans loyal to Pyongyang in Japan, saying they violated the platform’s terms of service and community guidelines. Is.

Another YouTube channel called Echo of Truth, allegedly run by Yoon A, a North Korean resident who filmed himself enjoying daily activities in Pyongyang, was taken down in late 2020. .

But the shutdown drew an outcry from some researchers who said the videos provided a valuable insight into North Korea and its leadership, even if they were propaganda.

When asked for comment from YouTube about the deleted channels, and Song A and YuMi, a spokesperson said the platform “complies with all applicable restrictions and commercial compliance laws – including those of restricted entities.” Regarding Content Created and Uploaded.”

“If we find that an account violates our Terms of Service or Community Guidelines, we disable it,” the statement said.

Experts said YuMi and Song A’s videos may be an attempt by Pyongyang to reach out to the audience without attracting the moderators’ attention.

And even if they were scripts, they also offered a valuable window into the country. experts said.

“People already know that (the videos) were made for propaganda purposes … the public is already aware,” Ha said. But, he added, “I think there should be proper education and discussion about how we should treat (such) material instead of just closing the door.”

Read full article here

Related Articles

Latest Posts