ARIN6903: North Korea expands its propaganda machine on social networking sites

Propaganda is as old as humankind itself and covers a vast array of subject matter, from religion to race, politics to pollution, advertising to Al-Qaida. What comes to mind when the word propaganda comes up may depend on where you were raised. For me, I think back to high school history lessons about the Nazi Third Reich in 1930s and 40s Germany, when Joseph Goebbels produced thousands of pieces of propaganda aimed at maintaining the stranglehold of the Nazi party. Of course, those nations fighting against Germany in the Second World War produced their own powerful anti-German and anti-Japanese propaganda.

In Australia, we are no strangers to both benign and more damaging propaganda, in recent times being urged to “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” on the one hand, and on the other, during the years of the White Australia policy (which lasted in some form from the 1950s all the way up to 1973), newspaper readers would have seen Phil Ray’s “Asian Octopus” staring back at them from the pages,  with each octopus tentacle representing a supposed “Asian evil”.


That brings my post to more modern times, with the news just last week that the state of North Korea (@uriminzok) has joined Twitter in an effort to spread its propaganda across another medium and further around the globe. The diplomatically isolated state has also set up accounts on those other Web 2.0 behemoths – YouTube and Facebook. So, with my studies in mind, I duly signed up to follow North Korea on Twitter, set them up as a “friend” on Facebook and viewed some of their YouTube clips. True to the nature of propaganda being a one-way communication flow, the North Korean Twitter account indicates that they have 10,000 odd followers, yet they are not following anyone.

As could be expected, the press have picked up on North Korea’s entrée to the social networking world with The New York Times reporting that:

In one clip, it called Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a “minister in a skirt” and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates a “war maniac,” while depicting the South Korean defense minister, Kim Tae-young, as a “servile dog” that likes to be patted by “its American master.”

The propaganda war between North and South Korea had been stopped in 2000, but in May of this year it was resurrected after South Korea blamed North Korea for the sinking of a warship which killed it 46 sailors.

In  a quote that surely indicates that propaganda’s impact depends on its audience and the context in which it situated, Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert on North Korea at Korea University in Seoul was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think this propaganda from the North will have any significant impact among South Koreans. “People watch this for fun, not to be influenced.”

North Korea's Facebook account

North Korea's Facebook account

North Korea's Facebook Account

North Korea's Facebook Account

North Korea on You Tube

North Korea on You Tube

Although I believe the Internet to be a major influence in societal and technological terms, I also believe that in many ways it is an extension of what has come before, allowing propaganda to spread in a new medium, rather than reinventing the wheel.

One way in which propaganda may benefit in terms of spread, is the Wikipedia site’s editorial processes which are heavily criticised by many observers including Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur. The New York Times has reported that “Insider Editing”, the practice where companies or organisations that find elements in their Wikipedia entry to their dislike edit the entry. Prominent examples have included a computer originating at ExxonMobil responsible for editing a page dealing with the 1989 Exxon-Valdez Alaskan oil spill and PepsiCo editing information critical about Pepsi’s effect on health. A monitoring programme called WikiWatcher attempts to monitor these edits by matching up the IP address where the edits originate with the name of the network owner.

There are of course, many many other examples of how Wikipedia is being used as a propaganda tool. One very controversial one is the move by two Israeli organisations to establish Zionist Wikipedia editing courses, in the belief that online, Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinians. They have identified hundreds of Wikipedia entries they believe to be either inaccurate or slanted to paint Israel in a poor light. Previously, a group that planned to secretly edit Wikipedia pages was banned from the site, hence a more transparent approach by these newer organisations.


Keen, A. (2008) The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values.  Doubleday, New York.


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