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North Korea's elite have really good internet access and use it for Facebook and porn

by Greg Walters
Jul 26 2017, 6:16am

North Korea may be one of the world’s most isolated countries thanks to international sanctions and draconian domestic censorship, but that hasn’t stopped its wealthiest citizens from enjoying a few modern luxuries, like checking Facebook or watching porn.

According to a new report by internet threat intelligence company Recorded Future, access to the internet is much more widespread among senior members of the Hermit Kingdom’s ruling class than many outsiders believe.

“It’s common to describe North Korea as an isolated country,” said Sheena Chestnut Greitens, an expert on North Korea and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The truth is that the North Korean regime is not that isolated. Ordinary citizens are as a result of the regime’s choices.”

Researchers carefully monitored North Korean internet use over a period of three months to create a detailed portrait of how the country’s leadership and upper class use the web, concluding top-level North Koreans are “plugged into modern internet society.”

Greitens said the report, if accurate, offers intriguing new information on “North Korea’s virtual presence,” something she said “policymakers should pay attention to.”

The investigation suggests North Korean elites frequently access social media, including Facebook and Twitter, despite previous reports that those sites were blocked by the regime. Facebook is the most widely used social networking site among North Koreans, according to the report.

Senior North Koreans regularly consume international news, researchers found — a finding that suggests the country’s leadership is aware of how its actions are perceived abroad.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the limited number of North Korean leaders and ruling elite with access to the internet are much more active and engaged in the world, popular culture, international news, and with contemporary services and technologies than many outside North Korea had previously thought,” the report says. “North Korean leaders are not disconnected from the world and the consequences of their actions.”

Just a wafer-thin layer at the top of North Korean society enjoys access to the internet, however.

Ordinary North Koreans are sold mobile devices enabled with minimal 3G services, including voice and text messaging, that are restricted to using North Korea’s domestic provider network, Koryolink, according to the report.

A small number of specialists — including university students, scientists, and select government officials — have access to North Korea’s domestic, state-run intranet known as the Kwangmyong. But they can only use it via common-use computers at universities and internet cafes.

The very top of North Korean society, on the other hand, streams Chinese-language videos, browses Amazon, watches videos on Chinese video hosting service Youku, and plays video games online, according to the report, which says content streaming and gaming accounted for 65 percent of all internet activity in North Korea.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ruling class of North Korea — a country that Tuesday threatened to strike the U.S. with a “powerful nuclear hammer” — especially like to play a massively multiplayer online game called World of Tanks.