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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 120 (August 19, 2010)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

North Korea Appears to Tap Twitter, YouTube for Propaganda

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea, one of the most reclusive nations in the world, appears to have embraced widely growing online social networking channels as tools to diffuse propaganda more effectively.

   North Korea on July 14 apparently registered an account with the popular U.S.-based video-sharing site YouTube, uploading clips that praise the isolated regime and defend itself against accusations that it attacked a South Korean warship.

   The country has so far uploaded 101 clips as of Aug. 18 under the account name uriminzokkiri, which also happens to be the name of North Korea's official Web site. The name in Korean means "on our own as a nation."

   The uploaded footage largely contains regurgitations of officials honoring the North's leader Kim Jong-il and the usual South Korea bashing. The most recent Aug. 17 upload contained a 2 minute 41 second music video that glorified the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

   Whether the account was actually run by North Korea, however, was not confirmed.

   A North Korean account also appeared on Twitter, the highly popular microblogging service, and began making posts from Aug. 12.

   Twitter allows users to send messages up to 140 characters long, known as "tweets." Subscribers, or "followers," can choose to receive feeds via their mobile phones or personal computers.

   The account, under the name uriminzok (our nation), has 12 messages and 5,716 followers so far. The veracity of the account, however, could not be confirmed.

   All of the tweets on the uriminzok account contained short headlines and links to different Web pages, but the pages couldn't be accessed from South Korea, suggesting that they most likely contain pro-Pyongyang content.

   All North Korean-run Web sites are blocked in the South and can only be accessed with special government authorization.

   Last year, one Twitter account was created that initially claimed to be run by the North's Korean Central News Agency. It was, however, later revealed as a hoax by those who claim to be "unofficial activists" with Reporters Without Borders, an international journalists' organization, and writers for the satirical German-language Web site Stupedia.org.

   Impersonation has been a challenge for Twitter, which earlier this year suspended a bogus account set up in the name of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The U.S. company has introduced "authenticity badges" to fight identity theft through its services.

   Observers have taken note of North Korea's expanded use of the Internet for its propaganda offensive. In June, a North Korean woman believed to be an agent uploaded a clip praising the socialist country on YouTube, drawing media attention here and abroad.

   North Korea is also believed to be operating a unit dedicated to hacking foreign Web sites, including those of the United States and South Korea. Early this year, South Korea set up a cyber defense command to deal with such threats from the North.

   Meanwhile, the Korea Communications Commission, South Korea's communications watchdog, blocked the uniform resource locator, or URL, address of the uriminzok Twitter account in order to prevent South Koreans from accessing it.

   Seoul's Unification Ministry also warned of possible punishment for local netizens seeking to reply to and "retweet" posts on the North Korean Twitter site.

   Contrary to Seoul's move, the U.S. on Aug. 18 lauded North Korea's entry onto the Twitter and YouTube global networking systems, expressing hope that technology will help information reach deep into the reclusive regime.

   "We welcome North Korea to Twitter and the networked world," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in his own Twitter account. "We use Twitter to connect, to inform, and to debate."

  (END)