The internet is a wonderful thing. On Monday, it blessed us with a strange yet immensely fascinating look into a previously mysterious corner of itself: North Korea’s internet. By some accounts, it’s hard to believe North Korea even has internet. But this past weekend, the doors were accidentally opened to North Korea’s websites — all 28 of them. For the citizens of the closed-off, dictator-led poverty-stricken nation, that basically is their internet.
Honestly, it’s easy to make fun of North Korea, from Kim Jong-un’s fashion choices to the military’s failed tests and threats. But we’re not going to do that today. Instead, we’re going to take this chance to talk about North Korea using this new incredible insight as a guide to how the country portrays itself to itself. Remember, before Monday, these websites were for North Koreans only.
How exactly these websites were leaked and accessed involves too much jargon to get into today. All you need to know is something within North Korea’s internet settings changed, allowing anyone outside of the country to access its list of websites. We only hope for the safety of whomever was in charge of those servers (and we mean that sincerely). North Korea isn’t known for simple slaps on the wrist.
As you peruse the list, you’ll notice a nicely curated chunk of basic services and websites you’d expect to find in any company. There’s a page for insurance, the university and the news. If you can’t read Korean, that’s OK — we can’t either. Thankfully, users on Reddit helped compile simple explanations of some of the websites. Ultimately, the kinds of websites available aren’t what’s surprising. Really, little of it is surprising. North Korea runs a tight ship. This internet is a highly monitored, highly controlled entity of the government. In fact, it’s estimated only a few thousand people in North Korea have access to this internet, most of them being high-ranking government officials.
Taking this leak as whole, it’s far more eerie than it is surprising. These are websites that are probably used by the same people who probably indirectly helped make them. Though the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will never admit it, the country has a huge poverty and hunger problem. And yet there’s a lovely, clean website about everything you’d want to know about North Korea’s airline. Like much of the capital, Pyongyang, it’s sterile — too sterile. The sites are filled with propaganda, most of it naturally coming from the news websites.
Like the residents of the country itself, North Korea’s internet users live in a vacuum. They are given a censored, controlled and monitored version of the internet. Then again, that isn’t really the internet, is it? The internet should be open, limitless, with the free flow of ideas and information. So much of our world — our lives — are on the internet, for better or for worse. Today, think about the people of North Korea and count your blessings. When you forward that cute cat video to a friend, find the perfect GIF to use in a group chat or use the dog filter on Snapchat for the millionth time, be thankful you live in a place where you can do those things freely.