After my book The Blogging Revolution was released, I was constantly asked why I hadn’t examined North Korea. I always said it was simply because the internet barely existed in the Communist nation.
Now, via the New York Times, a glimpse:
The networks are the creation of a handful of North Korean defectors and South Korean human rights activists using cellphones to pierce North Korea’s near-total news blackout. To build the networks, recruiters slip into China to woo the few North Koreans allowed to travel there, provide cellphones to smuggle across the border, then post informers’ phoned and texted reports on Web sites.
The work is risky. Recruiters spend months identifying and coaxing potential informants, all the while evading agents from the North and the Chinese police bent on stopping their work. The North Koreans face even greater danger; exposure could lead to imprisonment — or death.
The result has been a news free-for-all, a jumble of sometimes confirmed but often contradictory reports. Some have been important; the Web sites were the first to report the outrage among North Koreans over a drastic currency revaluation late last year. Other articles have been more prosaic, covering topics like whether North Koreans keep pets and their complaints about the price of rice.
But the fact that such news is leaking out at all is something of a revolution for a brutally efficient gulag state that has forcibly cloistered its people for decades even as other closed societies have reluctantly accepted at least some of the intrusions of a more wired world.