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#NoFilter: Instagrams Provide Rare, Uncensored Look Inside North Korea

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, November 5 2013

A man biking in Pyongyang, North Korea (Wikipedia)

North Korea relaxed many of their rules and restrictions imposed on visiting foreigners this year. In January the country began allowing foreigners to carry cell phones, and in February it even activated a 3G network, although that was later revoked in March. Now millions of North Koreans use a 3G network, but are banned from using it to access the Internet or to make international phone calls. Foreigners still have easier access to wi-fi connections. One Associated Press photographer named David Guttenfelder regularly uploads uncensored images to his Instagram account, providing a rare look into a country once virtually unknown.

He gave Wired a firsthand account of his experience charting new territory:

Through social media, I’m trying to piece together a picture of this country for the outside world, whether it’s a still of an apartment building with an empty playground, a geo-tag for Juche Tower on Foursquare, or a video of a woman ringing up restaurant receipts with propaganda blaring behind her.

No one puts their hand in front of my camera, and no one tells me not to shoot things. There’s no review process. They don’t look at my pictures at all before I send them on the Associated Press wire or my Instagram account. Facebook even asks me to tag my “friends” Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung when I upload my photos.

North Korea is no stranger to social media. The country joined Twitter in 2010 and there is an organization called the Korean Friendship Association that is responsible for crafting a positive online image of North Korea. (None of the group's members speak Korean and few have ever been to the country, and yet they are the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's biggest online cheerleaders, profiled earlier this year by Gizmodo.)

Other foreigners, like English teacher Drew Kelly, also upload photos to Instagram and other social media accounts. Still, Kelly and Guttenfelder are, like us, foreigners looking in at North Korea. While it's exciting to see through their eyes, not until North Koreans can represent their country to us themselves will we really begin to see the country #unfiltered.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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