North Koreans and South Koreans have a very different view of social media. North Koreans do not see it at all. The government blocks access. South Koreans have smart phones, KakaoTalk and the fastest internet in the world. However, both the North and the South have trolls that are fighting it out online. The Guardian reports that South Koreans
…have about 200 North Korean trolls to contend with, according to a report published by a South Korean think-tank, the Police Policy Institute, in 2013. In total the report estimated that North Korean agents had posted 41,373 pieces of propaganda in 2012. (That’s about one every two days per agent, which is hardly Stakhanovite.)
Given the extreme strangeness of the regime in Pyongyang, it is easy to presume that
they would not know how to talk to a sophisticated southern audience. In fact their approach, as revealed in the report, is rather clever. Instead of hammering people with outlandish and unconvincing Juche propaganda in the usual North Korean way, Pyongyang’s trolls focus on areas that are still debated in the south – such as whether to give southerners access to sites (currently blocked) that praise the northern regime. Aware that recently started accounts with little background often arouse suspicion, northern agents also tend to work behind identities stolen from real southern users.
Clearly the problem has been serious enough for South Korea to react, and indeed to overreact. For years the country’s National Intelligence Service has been routinely posting messages of its own to attack those coming from the north, and at times these have allegedly strayed into attacks on South Korea’s own opposition parties. Last year the country’s former intelligence chief Won Sei-hoon was convicted of trying to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election in favour of the incumbent Park Geun-hye. A retrial has since been ordered, but in the original Won was alleged to be running a team of nine agents who used at least 658 Twitter identities to post many thousands of messages to discredit the north – and also, in the case of 274,800 messages, to smear President Park’s opponents, who were described as, among other things, “leftist followers of North Korea”.
Estimated troops 200 (north) 9 (south).
Favourite subject Whether North Korea is a) paradise b) paranoid.