PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Instagram users in North Korea are being warned that the photo-sharing service has been blacklisted by the government, the Associated Press reports. Users attempting to log into the website are being given a notice reading: “Warning! You can’t connect to this website because it’s in blacklist site.” Below the English text, a message written in Korean warns that the site contains “harmful content”.
With very few exceptions, North Koreans do not have access to the internet. In 2013, the totalitarian state granted mobile phone access to foreigners, allowing them to browse the web and use social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. According to Uri Tours CEO Andrea Lee, since the 2013 shift in policy visitors have had “near open access to the web, including social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other sites that have historically been blocked in places like China.”
The decision to blacklist Instagram may be the result of photo and video sharing by the few foreign guests NK allows into the country. Earlier this month, a fire broke out at a Pyongyang hotel used by visitors and tourists. Photos were posted online and widely circulated, but North Korea’s state-run news agency has yet to print the story.
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who pays close attention to the “hermit kingdom”, which controls all media and makes extensive use of state-run outlets to publish propaganda pieces, most of which minimize anything negative about the country and make outrageous claims to bolster the public image of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. On Friday, North Korean officials announced they had developed a drug which cures AIDS, Cancer, Ebola, SARS, and MERS.
— Legatum Institute (@LegatumInst) June 19, 2015
That same day, North Korean defector and TED speaker Joseph Kim hosted an AMA on reddit, where he recounted his experiences escaping NK into China and eventually coming to the United States.
When asked how much of what goes on in North Korea is kept secret, he replied:
“A lot. I mean, especially in the West media. So much political conflicts and issues. Just about the leader. But I think what we are really missing is that because of heavy subjects, we tend to forget that there are people like myself who have hopes and dreams for a better life. And people who want to be happy. But because of all those heavy subjects, I think we sometimes don’t get to see the average North Korean, and you can’t really connect or relate to them because of heavy subjects.”
He also described the most surprising things about life outside of fascism.
“The biggest surprise was probably when I was watching TV in China, with the commercials or advertisements for medicine to help you lose weight – that was really something I never expected to see.
I think that was the biggest cultural shock. Because we were in a completely isolated country, I was not able to access information, even just going to China was culturally shocking. Coming to America, probably the biggest shocking moment was how everyone was living different lives. I guess one thing would be, for example, going to public parks with family, refreshments and barbecues, laying on the ground – I think that was something I never really imagined. I never had that in North Korea. We never had those kind of things.
I definitely miss some things. I do miss my friends, and also my hometown, my hometown has so many memories. It’s a place that I learned how to swim in the river there, there were mountains we climbed for fun, and one thing I do really miss is the pear tree from my backyard. Even if I go back to North Korea, which is not going to happen, I won’t be able to say “Oh, this is my home” because most of my family is no longer there. So seeing the pear tree I planted would give me some memories.”
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