Korea’s Digital IQ
By Hannah Kim
With South Korea blocking North Korea’s newly opened Twitter feed, the never-ending war between the two Koreas seems to now have shifted its arena from the Yellow Sea onto the World Wide Web ― at least instigators worldwide think so.
Here, I won’t opine whether North Korea’s propaganda via its Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts ― under the title ``Uriminzok" (our people) ― poses serious national security threats to South Korea to justify the blockage, or whether the South Korean government should impose its National Security Law ― which stipulates that anyone who ``corresponds or communicates with an anti-government group is subject to a maximum jail term of 10 years.” After all, the two countries are technically in a state of war, and these concerns are highly sensitive.
Rather, I’d like to speculate why the previously ‘unsocial’ socialist state has suddenly decided to jump on the social networks bandwagon to socialize online. Why now? And what are the social ramifications?
My utterly simplistic answer to why North Korea has suddenly signed on to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is the sheer extent of the amount of people worldwide that use them. Today, close to one billion users (or roughly 20 percent of the world’s population) actively engage online on these sites, combined. That translates to 500 million Facebook users, 2 billion YouTube video views a day, and 3 million tweets per hour. That shouts volumes.
For the same reason, the U.S. government has ― since the start of the Obama Administration ― utilized these social networking platforms to better engage with the American people. According to a recent report called ``What Americans Do Online," Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networking sites such as these. It’s obvious why the official government website (USA.gov) has links to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; so does the White House website (WhiteHouse.gov).
Maybe the greatest lure for governments to use of social networking sites is the convenience of direct and real-time communication with their targeted audience ― without the filter of the traditional media lens. Particularly for North Korea, nothing can be more appealing than a chance to promulgate the ‘truth’ to the world about the ``warmongering” Americans and South Koreans.
To North Korea, there is no better time than now to take on governments that criticize its regime for the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship in March and to clear its name from what it believes to have been wrongly accused. Perhaps Kim Jong-il was influenced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who also opened a Twitter account in April to justify his socialist regime.
Or simply, North Korea has a higher Digital IQ than we had estimated.
For example, the 73-year old Republican Senator John McCain _ who was attacked in the 2008 presidential elections for being ``computer illiterate and unable to adapt to the modern world” ― was recently found to have the highest ``Digital IQ" in the Senate. A scholarly study combined a senators' use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube with the frequency with which members posted as well as their followings to determine the Digital IQ index. Not to mention that McCain has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter.
So let’s assess North Korea’s Digital IQ: North Korea has 10,862 followers on Twitter, 254 Facebook friends, and 1,605 YouTube subscribers (263,994 total upload views).
Compare this to the South Korean government (Korea.net): 2,802 Twitter followers, 1,368 Facebook likes, 102 YouTube subscribers (19,319 total upload views)
And as a reference point, the U.S. government has: 22, 259 followers on Twitter, 8,852 Facebook likes 23,580 YouTube subscribers (117,854 total upload views).
What does this all mean? Besides providing the means to facilitate two-way communications (on the surface), social networking sites are tools to aggregate analytical data (in the back end). It’s no wonder the U.S. House of Representatives, launched a contest a few months ago to encourage its Members to gain as many new Facebook likes, Twitter followers and YouTube subscribers as possible. What faster and cheaper way is there to gauge the views of their constituents (as legislators) and collect voter information (as political candidates)? Think ``CIA” at your fingertips.
In this vein, South Korea obviously falls behind North Korea Digital IQ. If the index is an indicator of South Korea’s interaction and communication with the world or the quantifiable interests of the international community, then the numbers reveal the North wins this fight ― especially given that it has just recently joined the online social community.
But the battle is not over. South Korea has the world’s highest number of broadband services per capita, close to 35% of the population and 85% of households. It ranks as the most “e-Government ready” nation according to a bi-annual U.N. survey that evaluates all 191 member states. There’s no excuse for a lower Digital IQ than North Korea.
Hannah Kim is a 2009 master's graduate at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, specializing in legislative affairs. She spearheaded the passage of the ``Korean War Veterans Recognition Act, U.S. Public Law 111-41," which was signed by President Obama on July 27, 2009. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.