A North Korean company behind deceptive social media campaigns appears to have introduced a new English-speaking propaganda vlogger and turned to YouTube’s new short-form video feature to win foreign fans.
According to NK News analysis, the “Olivia Natasha- YuMi Space DPRK daily” YouTube account appears to be run by the Pyongyang-based Sogwang Media Corporation as part of a yearslong external outreach project.
Sogwang began creating sockpuppet Twitter and YouTube accounts in 2018 and has since introduced a number of child and adult vlog hosts who push official North Korean propaganda in English, Chinese, Russian and Korean. It has also recently started producing selfie-style videos as well as product unboxing and mukbang (eating vlogs) videos.
The newest young adult host named Yu Mi first appeared in a video that the YuMi Space channel released in August, and has since appeared in seven more videos averaging around 1,000 views each. She had 886 subscribers as of Dec. 28.
Her most recent upload is a “Shorts” video tour of the Pyongyang Metro. YouTube introduced Shorts — videos under one minute long — last year following the popularization of short-form videos on other social media sites such as TikTok.
Like its competitors, YouTube seeks to increase engagement by loading popular Shorts from various unrelated channels into playlists users can endlessly scroll through. It is unclear if Yu Mi’s video has appeared in such automatically generated playlists.
Yu Mi has not disclosed her apparent role as a state-backed propaganda host, instead attempting to engage with viewers in her first video and telling them she wants to show off the real Pyongyang.
“I guess you might be more curious about Pyongyang since you had no chance to visit our country for a couple of years after the outbreak of the COVID-19,” she said to start her first video, in which she introduces ice cream products to viewers.
She also presents herself as an independent vlogger hoping to gain popularity in her second video, a tour of a Pyongyang amusement park, saying “at the moment my ratings are not that satisfying, but you are watching my video right now and that means a lot to me.”
Despite the omission of her apparent links to official propaganda, Yu Mi’s videos still offer insights into how many elites and middle-class Pyongyang residents are living.
For example, she has taken viewers into Pyongyang shops and restaurants and recently interviewed local soccer players about this month’s FIFA World Cup, asking them who they thought would win the championship and whether they thought international stars Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi was the best player of all time. State TV went on to air almost all the tournament’s matches.
NK News previously found a Twitter account linked to Sogwang named “@Parama_Coreafan,” and this page has recently begun promoting Yu Mi’s videos, suggesting the two are connected.
Yu Mi’s videos, with poor audio quality and editing, also stylistically resemble Sogwang videos the state company has posted under various social media accounts in the last four years.
It is illegal for ordinary North Koreans to access the internet or YouTube to post personal vlogs, meaning Yu Mi has to work with state media officials to get her videos uploaded.
Sogwang’s CEO is married to current DPRK Ambassador to China Ri Ryong Nam, and at least one of its English-speaking hosts — a young girl named Song A — belongs to an elite family with close ties to DPRK leader Kim Jong Un himself.
NK News first reported the link between Sogwang and the social media operation based on evidence that Twitter and Weibo sockpuppet accounts posted content before they appeared on Sogwang’s official webpage.
Meanwhile, a Sogwang-linked Weibo page announced this week that it was told by the Chinese social media site’s operators it needed to change its name in order to avoid appearing like an official North Korean media outlet. Numerous users commented on the post that they believed the page was indeed an official DPRK operation.
The page, titled “NEW DPRK” until last weekend, changed its name to “小鹿先生ING” — roughly translating to “Mr. FawnING.” It has posted original Sogwang photos and videos in the past, demonstrating its access to DPRK state media material, but also regularly posts non-North Korea related content and claims to be run by Chinese supporters.