Notes form SXSW 2013 session by Jean Lee, Associated Press, Seoul Bureau Chief.
Twitter: @newsjean Instagram: instagram.com/newsjean
In response to my question about how NK is different to other closed countries like China, Jean responded; To understand NK, you need to understand Korean (north & south) culture. They are very conformist. NK specifically takes pride in knowing they are different from the world. They know they are isolated, and for the most part, like it.
1. North Korea is one of the most closed Internet countries in the world and juxtapositioned against South Korea which has one of the worlds highest penetration in online and digital devices.
2. There are two internet networks in NK; One for foreigners which is fairly open and the other for some citizens which is very limited and controlled. The citizen network has no access to outside content or networks like Facebook or Google.
3. The network for Foreigners has a new 3G system. Jean thinks this could be one, very small step toward internet openness. Jean could search for something on the Internet and show it to a citizen.
4. @newsjean was the first foreigner to tweet and Instagram on the new 3G network. Jean told Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) about the system and to tweet on his trip. Jean also travelled with Eric Schmidt in NK who was advocating Internet openness.
5. Although phones are very expensive, North Korea has 1 million cell phone users now who now text, read books, etc. They talk on their phones in movies! Texts used more than email. Not a lot of desktop/home computers. Some have Chinese made tablets for reading books. They call them iPads.
6. The NK citizen network has some fledging social networks sort of like bulletin boards. Used for students to wish their teachers happy birthday. (see associated image) What is being viewed on the citizen network? Propaganda of course like the Peaceful Reunification of Korea org run by the gov. But also, the popular NK girl band, Moranbong. “Which girl is your favorite?”
7. Jean sees no sign of underground internet usage. Fear is very strong and is the first obstacle to break down before this advancement. Some have said NK is 30-40 years behind China.