North Korea has officially banned Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and a host of South Korean websites in a move more aimed at restricting the online access of visitors to the country, rather than local citizens who already have very limited digital freedom. As of late 2014, North Korea had only 1,024 IP addresses registered on its version of the internet, and the few people granted access tended to be senior government officials.
Journalists and visitors to North Korea, on the other hand, have long retained access to a relatively free internet and have been able to post on Facebook and Twitter while touring the isolated nation. China, the nation’s northern neighbor, has also banned Facebook and Twitter, as well as Google and most of its products, including Gmail, despite much higher internet usage overall.
North Korea has blocked several gambling and other “adult” sites, as well. The move mirrors restrictions in South Korea, which has defied most of the rest of the free world and placed heavy restrictions on digital access to pornography in particular. South Korea has also banned several North Korean websites that host information and news critical of the South Korean government.
As many as two million North Koreans are currently using mobile phones, but the vast majority lack internet access. Back in 2013, the government began granting foreigners access to a 3G network using local SIM cards. Soon after, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram saw steady trickles of posts from foreigners living in the country reach their sites, but now that door is apparently shutting closed.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to know exactly why the government is sealing off access now. But one theory is that North Korea is struggling to contain the flow of information into the country following the newest round of international sanctions levied after its test of what may have been a hydrogen bomb in January.
Or perhaps Kim Jong Un, the nation’s dictator, was simply embarrassed that international photographers captured him 70 pounds heavier while warning the nation to prepare for famine. Be honest. You wouldn’t want your friends seeing those pics, either.