YouTube pulls North Korea propaganda channel over US sanctions

15 Dec 2016

North Korean soldier. Image: Astrelok/Shutterstock

For the last few years, North Korea has been attempting to sway public opinion of the one-party state using YouTube. Now, the video-sharing platform has had enough.

Under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, North Korea remains a one-party state with some of the strictest censorship on the planet.

While those of us on the outside are eager to catch a glimpse of a little-understood nation, its people remain largely cut off from the outside world thanks to almost no internet access except for a few elite members of society.

Although, this hasn’t stopped the North Korean government giving its citizens a state-run internet that, unfortunately for its IT overlords, managed to leak online earlier this year.

For the past few years, the state has engaged in a war of information with the rest of the world – particularly the US – with an official state YouTube channel broadcasting its propaganda.

A financial decision

While its citizens would not be able to view it, the country has been trying to spread its message of adoration for its leader and boasting about its developing nuclear weapons programme to the world.

Now, according to The Washington Post, YouTube has taken action against the channel by shutting it down for violating its list of community guidelines.

While the guidelines typically protect users from watching content that could be deemed overtly sexual or violent, this time around it is believed to be because the channel is making advertising revenue.

Those familiar with the matter have said that YouTube wanted to pull the channel because of existing US sanctions against North Korea brought into force in March this year.

As the channel makes advertising revenue from its videos, YouTube could be violating these sanctions by providing funds for the state.

Damaging for researchers

“Having reviewed the sanctions in March, they would have said that this is risky, we are potentially in violation,” said lawyer Joshua Stanton of the One Free Korea blog.

“It’s good that they have done this, although it’s a fairly small piece of the picture.”

However, the decision to pull the channel has not gone down well with everyone, particularly analysts who used the channel to get a glimpse of life inside the state they would otherwise be unable to access.

One such researcher, David Schmerler, said: “While it provided daily news shows on events the regime wanted shown countrywide, it also helped give context to structures I would normally only see via satellite image.”

The amount of money made by North Korea remains up for debate, but analysts have said that, based on the number of views its videos received, it would have been next to nothing for the state.

North Korean soldier. Image: Astrelok/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic