A social media account claiming to be an “official” voice of North Korea is actually the work of a German teenager, NK News has learned.
In recent months Istagram’s northkorea_dprk_officialsite account amassed a large online following, purporting to be “Official Site of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea”. But rather than being the work of forward-thinking North Korean propagandists–who already control Flickr, YouTube and Twitter accounts–the “official” Instagram account is actually the work of 18-year-old student Moritz Ferdinand Arend Kotheder.
Though Mr.Kotheder claimed at times to be employed by the North Korean government – at one point saying he worked as a diplomat in Germany – communications with NK News revealed that he is in fact the sole operator of the account, having no affiliation to the DPRK.
Kotheder, a student living near Stuttgart, said that he set up the “official” account on May 1, 2012.
“I created the DPRK account long ago,” he explained by email.
“My curiosity evolved from my interest in international politics, socialism and Asian countries. I started the account; maybe because I wanted to fool people but also to let people around the world see another side of the DPR of Korea. This was and still is my motivation. I am the true and only owner of the account.”
“In the very beginning it had another name and I did it just for fun, I was a big big fan of the DPRK and wanted to make other people become fans or supporters too,” Kotheder said when asked why he started the account.
Kotheder says he has been surprised by the rapid increase in followers of his Instagram account and said that people may have believed in the account’s authenticity just because “official” is in its name.
“My friend he’s a big fan of the account but he still calls me crazy for running it but I’m used to hearing that,” Kotheder added.
Despite admitting to fabricating the account, he said he has no plans to operate the account any differently.
“…I may plan to change the name of the account, if there is going to be trouble with the DPRK gov. But that’s the only reason I’ll change it, other reasons I will ignore.”
FATHER CHRISTMAS AND JOHNNY CASH
Prior to his admission, research into the “official” Instagram account suggested it being maintained by an administrator who could write Korean, Chinese, Russian, German and English.
It also appeared to be operated by someone who enjoyed celebrating Christmas, was a fan of Johnny Cash and most likely lived in Germany – not characteristics one might associate with a North Korean propagandist.
Clues about the origin of the account first emerged in an image dated August 15 2012, when Mr. Kotheder hinted at the account’s origins:
“For the instagram account I asked a few higher[-ranking] people and they said everything that shows the world the real face of the great DPRK is good but I’m not sure if it is totally allowed so this is maybe just a half official account…” the administrator wrote at the time.
Other comments, however, were further embellishments about the account.
“I’m a citizen of the DPRK and I’m working for the KCNA [Korean Central News Agency] but I don’t take all of these pictures, some may be from my colleagues and I’m in europe now cause of olympics [sic]).”
More was revealed in a reply to an apparently antagonistic question, that has since been deleted:
“It’s not fulltime job [sic], even doing this account is not my job and you should know that you’re the only one writing such wrong and stupid comments, if there is any suffering happening or happend [sic] it was only the fault of your imperialistic country and I never post ‘propaganda’ I post the real daily life and official latest news about the DPRK.”
In analyzing a month’s worth of activity at the account it also became clear that most of the image uploads came one-to-three days past their official publication, with the majority of images coming from the KCNA and Rodong Sinmun websites.
Further clues as to the unofficial nature of the Instagram account were evident in the pictures themselves.
The first picture – which looked to have been taken directly by the account administrator – happened to show an image of a browser window viewing a video from the Mexican KFA affiliated YouTube channel rodrigorojo1.
But a close look at the picture showed that the administrator’s YouTube browser window was displaying a German language setting, with “178 Aufrufe” visible in the bottom right (178 views).
A second picture and comments revealed the biggest clues as to the administrator’s identity, showing a teenage white male with the text “Official friend of the DPR of Korea” loosely superimposed on top.
The picture was in fact a portrait of the real account manager, Mr. Kotheder.
The “official” North Korea Instagram account is just the latest example in the often unofficial nature of North Korean social media accounts.
Last year NK News showed how a Russian pilot was behind Air Koryo’s “official” Facebook page.
An “official” DPR Korea homepage, the making of which allegedly cost $15, was shown to be the work of Alejandro Cao de Benós and the Korea Friendship Association.
Recently, Martyn Williams listed the many reasons why the now deleted “official” North Korean KCTV Facebook page was likely the work of a fan.
While online news outlets regularly present unofficial North Korean social media assets as official, this recent history shows that more scrutiny is needed before accrediting DPRK focused social media assets to the country’s propagandists themselves.