Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ideological Control and the Internet

In the Economist last week, there was an article entitled "Weird but wired" about the use of the internet in North Korea. Typically, computers in North Korea are utilized for "educational and scientific purposes" but they also have their own form of the internet, dubbed "Kwangmyong" or "bright". This internet is used for a limited number of things, including news dissemination and is, of course, strictly controlled. But it has given elite North Koreans access to email, and others to the wonderful world of online dating (the official interviewed apparently met his girlfriend online).

In terms of North Korea, the internet can be seen as a new media through which to disseminate propaganda, and also as a huge risk to the North Korean government's tight control over information. If individuals can manage to access the broader internet through China, as the article points out is possible, it could pose a potentially huge political disaster for Kim and his government. As we discussed in the last class, it would be a massive shock to most normal North Koreans to discover that not everyone loves and reveres there Dear Leader, nor do most people care much about North Korea aside from nuclear weapons.

With these kinds of risks inherent in the use of the internet, what are the big selling points to Kim? Is this an effort to perhaps create greater and closer ties with the outside world by improving drastically the communication between North Koreans and everyone else?


Eric said...

The benefits of (controlled) access to the Internet for elites and the military/scientific/industrial complex might outweigh the dangers in the calculus of the regime. They probably understand there are available technologies and theory on "the internets" that they could make use of in all areas of policy (arms production technology, arms transfer, health policy, international finance, macroeconomic theory, monetary policy).

The .kp domain situation is interesting as well - IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) has reserved .kp for the DPRK, but there is no sponsoring organization designated yet. According to WIKI-INT, Korea Computer Center (KCC) Europe is handling the domain registration process with a US corporation. "... but legal challenges make this so far impossible. The biggest problem is the lack of a diplomatic representation of North Korea in the US."

If the .kp domain is approved I wonder what would show up in it, other than the state media outlets. Would we see more open information or solicitations regarding foreign investment?

Sayaka said...

Might not be directly relevant but I want to share what I found on the NK official website:

North Korean business and tourism information

What is more interesting to me is:
Ma Short-term Korean Language program in Pyongyang for the Japanaese (written in Japanese)

It says: "今年は未知の国朝鮮でひとつの思い出を作ってみてはいかがでしょうか?" (How about making a memory in an unknown country Chosen (NK) this year?)