North Korea officially announced this week that it is blocking social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and South Korean websites, limiting the spread of online information in the region, the Associated Press (AP) reported Friday. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications made the announcement on the country’s main mobile service provider, Koryolink, and other places serving internet users.
So far, very few people in the reclusive Asian country have access to the internet and most of them can only see a sealed-off, government-sanctioned intranet. Foreign nationals in the country could earlier access the internet almost without any restrictions, but their online activities would be tracked behind the scenes. The latest restrictions will make posting real-time updates about North Korea hard for the few foreign nationals in the country and travelers, and will curb the information that North Koreans with internet can access online.
The Kim Jong Un regime said sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Voice of America and other South Korean media sites will be blocked “for a certain period of time.” Along with these, the country also banned gambling and “sex and adult websites,” the AP reported. Facebook and Twitter, which had been informally blocked for months, were reportedly not accessible from Pyongyang on Friday. However, photo-sharing app Instagram was not among the websites blocked by the country.
North Korea also threatened to punish those who try to access the sites in an “improper” way or spread “anti-republic data,” without revealing the nature of the punishment. The restrictions are similar to those in China, which allows greater internet access but bans sites that are believed to be politically sensitive or socially harmful. Rival neighboring country and close U.S. ally South Korea also bans North Korean websites along with a variety of sites considered adult content.
About 2 million North Koreans use mobile phones but access to the internet is limited to officials, technicians or those who have special permission to use it, according to estimates cited by the AP. In 2013, Pyongyang allowed foreign nationals to use 3G network on their mobile phones, which usually requires a local SIM card to access the Koryolink mobile carrier network. The move led to foreigners surfing the net and posting information about the country.
Last June, warnings started appearing on Instagram accounts in North Korea that access was being blocked due to “harmful content.” Other sites also showed a message saying: “Warning! You can't connect to this website because it's in blacklist site,” the AP reported.
The world's most isolated nation has been, for quite some time, trying out various methods to control the information that gets out of the country amid worries that residents would find new ways to access the internet.