March 11, 2013
From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report in Special English.
Foreigners in North Korea can now use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media on their mobile phones. A steady flow of tweets and Instagram pictures have been observed since the mobile service provider Koryolink launched its 3G network last week.
The move came just weeks after the North Korean government announced that it would let foreigners bring their own mobile phones into the country. Until recently, foreigners were required to leave the devices with customs officials after crossing the border.
The changes represent rare reforms in what is considered the most closed country in the world. Some observers say it could be a sign that North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, is open to easing official restrictions.
Martyn Williams operates the North Korea Tech blog. He told VOA that the changes could create a hole in the wall of censorship that keeps out almost all foreign information.
"Every time that new technology is adopted, especially in authoritarian countries, when you look back, you'll be able to see that it was another nail in the coffin of censorship. It was another crack in the wall, so to speak."
The new mobile Internet service will only be available to the small number of foreigners in North Korea.
Martyn Williams says the service could change the way foreign media report on North Korea. He says having an Internet connection on a camera-equipped mobile phone means reporters can avoid some of the official restrictions.
"It gives reporters the ability to take a picture and to send the picture immediately. And then that means that once the picture is gone, even if someone comes up and says you can't take that picture, you have to delete it. You can turn around and say 'I'm sorry, but it's already sent.' Or you can delete it, but you know that it's already gone."
David Slatter works in Seoul as a writer for the website NKNews.org. He admits that reporters may be able to publish some images without the approval of the North Korean government. But he says their effect may be limited.
"At the moment, it seems very interesting. But in a few months, I do question how much will these photos really be covered if we just have the same handful of 10-11 people inside Pyongyang tweeting about their lunch."
Gareth Johnson directs Young Pioneer Tours, which takes foreigners on trips to North Korea. He believes that these ordinary pictures could prove to be helpful.
"In my mind, one fairly positive thing that is going to happen is people are going to see it less as a freak show.
China's official Xinhua news agency says the Koryolink SIM card will cost $200. Data will cost an additional $200 for 2 gigabytes.