YouTube has taken down three accounts, including one run by an 11- year-old girl, for being tools of psychological warfare. The three accounts which happen to be part of North Korea’s state media were being used to spread propaganda in an attempt to win the rest of the world over.
Not So Day-To-Day in North Korea
Early this year, the media highlighted YouTube creators based in North Korea sharing a glimpse of what seemed to be their day-to-day lives. One creator, YuMi, a young woman, recorded normal things such as eating ice cream and visiting places in her city, the captial of North Korea, Pyongyang.
Today I walked along the bank of Pothong River, Pyongyang.
People were boating and walking.
Peace and quietness – this is the common scenery on every the river bank in Pyongyang. pic.twitter.com/bwAnLuPM9l
— Olivia Natasha (@YuMi_DPRK_daily) June 30, 2023
Another girl who is only 11-years-old, Song A, also posted videos of her visiting amusement parks in Pyongyang, going to school, and even talk about her favorite series of books: Harry Potter. Through these videos, she spoke in a British accent which she claims to have been taught by her mother.
“Have you ever been to Pyongyang? Well if you come here, you’ll be totally surprised. Because literally wherever you go, there are amusement parks, such as Munsu Water Park, the Central Zoo, Roller Skate Park,” Song A, also known as Sally Parks said.
While these activities would pass as normal in other countries, they are not common in North Korea. Such activities are reserved for a miniscule class of high profile persons in the country. In fact, reports state that amusement parks are not open due to power issues that long ail the country. It is therefore possible that they might have been opened on that day only to allow Song A to film.
Additionally, North Korea placed a ban on books and literature from other countries hence a Harry Potter book is not typical. More importantly, residents of the country only access the internet through a government-censored intranet that restricts them from posting content on platforms such as YouTube. Therefore, the existence of these channels is only made possible by state involvement.
Upon further investigation by a Seoul-based information service NK Pro, it was discovered that Song A is the daughter of a North Korean diplomat previously based in London. She is also the granddaughter of a vice foreign minister and the great-granddaughter of a venerated Korean war-era general.
Moreover, analysts discovered that YuMis account along with those of other female creators were linked to the Sogwang Media Corp, a North Korean firm with strong ties to the Kim government.
YouTube Takes Down State-Curated Accounts
While this may just look like a propaganda strategy for the country to paint a better picture to the world, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) believes that the videos are a tool of North Korea’s “psychological warfare” operations.
As a result, Seoul blocked domestic access to the three YouTube accounts, that is Sally Parks SongA Channel, Olivia Natasha-YuMi Space DPRK Daily, and New DPRK. “North Korea has been running such YouTube channels as part of its psychological warfare against South Korea. It is our job to respond to the North’s psychological campaign,” a NIS official said.
While it may seem absurd that an 11-year-old girl is a state-agent fighting psychological warfare by manufacturing propaganda for a western audience, her channel’s view of North Korea is just as absurdly rosy that it probably is propaganda.
That doesn’t mean that it’s her fault by any means though. If her channel is indeed state propaganda, she’s likely little more than an actor and others are really running the show.
A few days later, YouTube took action to remove the three accounts and others of the same kind from its global platform citing violation of its Terms of Service or Community Guidelines.
“Google is committed to compliance with applicable US sanctions and trade compliance laws, including those related to North Korea,” the company said.
However, this move has faced opposition from researchers and analysts who claim that disabling the accounts denies them access to valuable insights into life in North Korea. “Every glimpse of what’s going on in Pyongyang is valuable,” said Colin Zwirko, an analyst at NK Pro.
“It might just be things going on in the background — people’s behavior in the street, what people are wearing, what kinds of phones people are using, what kind of Covid restrictions are in place, what kind of economic activities you can see.”
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