Almost a decade has passed since North Korea installed its own fibre-optic cable network and launched its intranet “Kwangmyong” in 2000. Just two years later, the first cyber café opened in Pyongyang, several others started to sprout.
Kwangmyong, which means “bright,” supplies a browser (called Naenara), e-mail, news groups, and a search engine. Compared to the North Korean web censorship, China’s “great firewall” allows immense freedom for the Chinese. North Korea’s own censorship (a local version of the “great firewall”) is controlled by the Korean Computer Center, and those who are allowed contact with the rest of the world are to supply Kwangmyong with information—an effective way for the leader to stay in control of what information gets distributed to research institutions, factories, and schools; even though only a handful of people have access anyway.
Kwangmyong runs on pre-programmed computers—computers that use Red Star OS, North Korea’s own operating system built on Linux. Naenara, the browser, is the main information portal on Kwangmyong, and based off of Mozilla Firefox. Whenever Kim Jong-Un’s name is mentioned, the text is programmed to make the font larger than the rest.
So what does a nationwide intranet imply? In fact, computer courses are avidly taught in schools, online-dating is permitted, and just simply allowing children to play video games. (Perhaps North Korea’s first video game, “Pyongyang Racer.”)
While the censorship is extreme, people have found ways to bypass the restricted access. In the northern borders leading into China, people have been smuggling pre-paid cellphones in order to gain access to the outside world. With the introduction of smartphones, this might mean ordinary citizens could explore China’s comparatively loose Internet—this time spelled with an “er” and connected to the whole wide world.
In the case of the Arab Spring, we saw how crucial the role social media played in facilitating a movement, in connecting people. With the prospects of a call for reform occurring over the Internet being highly unlikely, the dictatorship is able to satisfy the need for technological advancement for the most part all while staying in control.
Perhaps one day, a kid using the cellphone her dad risked to smuggle, would be able to make her voice heard and create a ripple.