Thursday, May 3, 2012

North Korea Spent $15 Redesigning Its Homepage

South Korean politicians have reacted angrily to the discovery that North Korea has updated their official English website at the cost of just $15 and still made a better job of it than the South Korean government has with almost all its websites. But fears that the redesigned site might evade the South's so-called 'Democracy Firewall', ideologically corrupting South Korean web designers with promises of Internet sites for the masses, proved unfounded.

The U.S. Department of State also condemned the new design, pointing out that $15 could have fed 5 North Korean families for a week, or bought one cup of coffee at a popular retail chain in the South. By comparison, it's estimated that Seoul has spent $15 million this year alone trying to promote South Korean ideology to people around the world who use Internet Explorer 6 with ActiveX, enough for a whole round of drinks at one of these coffee chains.

While the government here works to carefully screen international visitors to its website by class - requiring them to have a specific set of web browser plug-ins as well submitting to a full medical prior to entry - the North Korean government appears to have designed its website as a classless system allowing free access rather than adopting a neoliberal model of plug-in accumulation.

It appears to mark a dangerous escalation by the unpredictable regime, which only last week promised to reduce the South Korean Internet "to ashes" in less than four minutes using "unprecedented peculiar means", which is now believed to have been referring to the impending launch of their new website. Worryingly, it is believed that the North Korean government may now have enough web designers to possibly build up to six websites.

In addition to websites, the North has also opened Twitter and Facebook accounts, including one for its flag-carrier, Air Koryo, which quickly launched into angry anti-South rhetoric such as "The Air Koryo Facebook fan page wishes you all the best for the remainder of the day." The site was quickly blocked under the National Insecurity Law.

A variety of pro-North and generally unpatriotic sites are banned in South Korea under the country's laws on free speech, even though this has made it difficult for the National Intelligence Service to gather information on the reclusive nation. The news that a new had been launched was instead broken by a non-Korean student in New York. The NIS said it was unable to comment on the site's capabilities.

Pyongyang has tried to evade South Korean censorship in the past by attaching copies of its websites to balloons which were then floated over the border. Seoul's Ministry of Journalism has banned reporting of this in South Korea, and the government has threatened any citizens found to be in possession of such material with "severe punishment". Under regional autonomy agreements, Dokdo is not subject to these reporting restrictions and Dokdo Internet does not operate a firewall.

Plans to shoot down the balloons have hit technical problems recently, with the South Korean military requesting that it be given funding to increase the range of its missiles.

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