North Korea, notorious for restricting interaction with the outside world to its citizens, has permitted some YouTube stars to visit the country and film their experiences.
British YouTube vlogger Louis Cole is among the few social media influencers who had the opportunity to enter the reclusive nation, and people are a bit worried about his videos’ intentions.
Cole, who has nearly 2 million followers, has already posted several videos on his YouTube page. He notes in one of them: “I’m trying to focus on positive things in the country and combat the purely negative image we see in the media.”
It makes for a great travel video, but publications that first reported about Cole’s visit raised concerns of subtle propaganda in the videos.
Cole and his friends are enthusiastic throughout his videos, and over the course of seven of them, the British YouTube star goes on to depict North Korea as an ideal holiday spot to his subscribers.
They surf, visit a water park, have a dance-off with some North Korean soldiers and, unlike many of North Korea’s own citizens, always have enough food to eat.
But the Human Rights Watch page on North Korea describes the DPRK as ‘among the world’s most repressive countries’, and says:
All basic freedoms have been severely restricted under the Kim family’s political dynasty. A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry found that abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world. They include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence.
Did you know North Korea have amazing water parks? https://t.co/9uGMkl2eQf
— Louis Cole (@funforlouis) August 11, 2016
Rather than acknowledge North Korea’s documented history of human rights abuses, Cole travels the country talking about building cultural bridges and focusing on the positives.
It’s unclear if Cole actually received any compensation or assistance from the North Korean government, but it’s unlikely that he traveled without at least knowledge and permission from them.
After VICE published its documentary on North Korea, founder Shane Smith described the months-long process the publication went through to get permission to film.
This entire trip had been about trying to connect with people & show love https://t.co/V6Xuq3LMuJ
— Louis Cole (@funforlouis) August 16, 2016
And just five days ago, the U.S. State Department issued a warning urging all U.S. citizens to avoid travel in North Korea ‘due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, which imposes unduly harsh sentences’, Forbes reports.
The warning says travelers can unknowingly break the law if they take ‘unauthorized photographs,’ ‘travel without authorization, even for short distances,’ or have ‘unauthorized interaction with the local population’.
So, basically, if Cole hadn’t been in contact with the North Korean government before videoing his adventures nonstop, he’d probably be sitting in jail right now.
I bet you've never seen this side of North Korea! https://t.co/j44FbG3ybr
— Louis Cole (@funforlouis) August 15, 2016
Is it propaganda? Cole hasn’t really commented on that, although he writes on YouTube that his trip was not a government sponsored one.
Really, the guy could just be passionate about showing the positives in a country full of negatives.
But if it is propaganda, well, it reveals a pretty worrying shaping of social media stars. If not, at least we know now that North Korea has some pretty great water slides.