Is North Korea tapping YouTube stars for propaganda?

Vlogging has come to North Korea. The country may curb its citizens’ internet access, but it seems to understand how important the web is. That’s why the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea allowed YouTube stars in for a visit.

One of the biggest stars who visited is British adventure vlogger Louis Cole, who is uploading a series of videos from a trip to North Korea to his 1.8 million fans. Each follows the same format he does in his normal travel videos, with a focus on the adventures, sights, and surprising moments. 

However, North Korea is a country with human rights abuses that are unparalleled, according to Human Rights Watch. No critique or acknowledgment of that makes it into his vlogs.

Cole adds a note to each video description that reads, “I’m trying to focus on positive things in the country and combat the purely negative image we see in the Media.” 

That may be a noble intention, but North Korea is restrictive about who enters the country, and what foreigners are allowed to document and experience when visiting. Another vlogger, Jacob Laukaitis, is a little more direct in his description of a video recounting his own week in North Korea.

You can never be sure whether things were staged or not in North Korea because you are only shown what they want you to see. You can’t choose where or when you will be going to specific places, they simply tell you to hop on a bus and ask you to get off at one point or another.

That is why I didn’t want to offer my opinion about whether things were staged or not, whether they were good or not, or honest or not. My goal was to show you what my day to day life looked like when I was there and let you make up your own mind and judge for yourself.

It’s unclear if these vlogs are paid for or sponsored by North Korea in any way. Fans have been critical in comments about the YouTuber’s representation of the country.

“Are.They trying to brainwash us,” wrote viewer Bryan Camacho.

“how do we know that even Luis vlogs aren’t propaganda,” wrote viewer Stewie 5.6k. 

There are some aspects of Cole’s vlogging that highlight just how isolated North Korea is for his audience. Cole’s most recent upload is about surfing being introduced in North Korea, highlighted by a North Korean singer.

They encourage her to “pretend you’re Justin Bieber,” to which the singer, referred to as Miss Kim, replies, “I don’t know, who is it?” The vloggers are happy and amazed to have encountered a Bieber-less world, but that might be the kind of information that can help a young audience understand just how repressive the North Korean regime really is. 

H/T Vanity Fair

Rae Votta

Rae Votta

A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.