Go to contents

Twitter and the Market

Posted August. 20, 2010 13:17,   


The Iranian people in June last year took to the streets of Tehran to protest a rigged presidential election and urge a change of government. Re-elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blocked the Internet and controlled foreign reports on the situation. Iranian protesters, however, let the world know what was happening in Iran through Twitter. A scene in which Tehran residents urged the “death of a dictator” on the top of buildings spread to the world via Twitter.

If North Koreans can use Twitter, the social networking site can turn into a trigger for a democratization movement in the North. In North Korea, people cannot use mobile phones freely and only government organizations use Twitter for propaganda purposes targeting South Koreans. A Twitter account opened by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland under the North’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party has attracted more than 8,000 followers. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said spreading North Korean messages and videos by posting replies to the account named “Uriminzok” or re-twitting is a violation of a law on inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.

Few Twitter users, however, will be blinded by the short propaganda messages of Pyongyang. The key to twitting is two-way communication. If the Stalinist country unilaterally sends messages via Twitter, this will unveil the closed nature of the regime and its inability to communicate with others even in borderless cyberspace. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Tuesday that the U.S. welcomes the North to Twitter and the networked world, but asked if the North is ready to allow its people to join Twitter.

North Korean markets, which had been inactive since a disastrous currency revaluation in December last year, are known to have become brisk again. A video taken at a market in Sinuiju early this month shows stands filled with sundries, clothes and groceries and female merchants in their 40s and 50s arguing with police officers over a crackdown on vendors. The North’s defeat in its “war on markets” was fully expected from the outset since it was waged at a time when the North Korean government could not even ration food for its starving people. Many North Koreans residing near the Chinese border including Sinuiju use Chinese mobile phones. If they begin using Twitter and North Korean authorities begin controlling the use of Twitter, the latter will face the same fate as police officers who attempt to control markets in the North.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)