Academics are angry that YouTube has shut down two North Korean news, and propaganda channels and has urged the company to reinstate them as they provided valuable insights about the country including into their nuclear program.
The two channels that were shut down were Stimmekoreas the top-ranked North Korean channel with 20,000 subscribers, and Uriminzokkiri that is also large with 18,000 subscribers. The channels regularly posted state TV news and other footage that attracted millions of hits. The channels were terminated on Friday September 9th for violating community guidelines. They did not explain how exactly they were doing so. Other countries often at odds with the US such as China, Russia, and Iran have channels that are used for propaganda purposes but have not been shut down. You Tube has not been very forthcoming in its explanation as to why the two channels were shut down.
Perhaps the US government put pressure on YouTube or it may be that You Tube is worried that North Korea is receiving ad revenue from the channels and that You Tube could be charged with violating US trade restrictions. Jeffrrey Lewis, an arms control expert said: “I know when I click on the videos I get ads. So perhaps they are nervous about sending that money on to the North Koreans. But honestly the YouTube ad revenues are not going to make or break the missile program.” If this is the reason for shutting down the stations You Tube could have at least said so instead of talking about community standards without indicating exactly what the stations had done wrong. One wonders if any notice were sent to North Korea explaining why the stations were shut down. I have not seen any response from North Korea as yet.
Stimmenkoreas is thought to be operated by a North Korean supporter who does not live in the country but posts high resolution photos and propaganda from the Korean Central News Agency in several different languages. Uriminzokkiri is directly tied to North Korea’s propaganda apparatus and posts content aimed at North Koreans living abroad.
Lewis said that You Tube should reverse its decision in the interests of US national security:
“North Korea is a country with thermonuclear weapons sitting on ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the United States. It is really important to understand them even if we don’t like them. That starts by analyzing their propaganda. Even though it’s tendentious, you can learn a lot about a country from the lies they tell.”Not all propaganda are lies. Some of what is published by North Korean propaganda outlets is true while some of the material published against North Korea is sometimes false. Lewis also tweeted about his concerns: “Dear @YouTube, please stop doing this. Academics rely on this information to monitor and assess North Korea’s missile programs.”
Academics use official footage from the channels to measure how powerful missiles are by how fast they accelerate. They also glean information from the parts and machinery visible when Kim Jong-un makes factory visits. Lewis said: ” When he visits a factory in the middle of nowhere and stares at machine tools it provides an important insight into the progress they are making.” If the North Koreans read this, they will no doubt make sure that Kim Jong-un’s visits to factories are closely monitored and if they do show machinery it may be a prop designed to provide false information to US intelligence. The channels also give information about who Kim Jong-un surrounds himself one that can show who is more or less important and how his inner circle may be changing. Lewis pointed out that North Korea used You Tube as a primary distribution vehicle for their propaganda. Sometimes you do not know something was important until after an event has happened and the availability of searchable propaganda archives is quite valuable. Scott Lafoy a Washington-based imagery analyst said: “Tracking and digitally reconstructing events is going to be more difficult as these accounts get deleted”.
This is not the first time You Tube has closed down North Korean channels. In November 2016 KoreanCentralTV!, NK Propaganda, and KCTV were also shut down. An article at the time claims it was because the stations could have made money through You Tube’s built-in advertising system.
You Tube is headquartered in San Bruno California and is a subsidiary of Google. As of February this year more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to You Tube each minute every day. You Tube website is ranked as the second most popular website in the world by Alexa Internet.