Information black hole as North Korean leader dies

Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:44am EST
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By Jonathan Hopfner

SEOUL (Reuters) - Few national leaders die these days with no one outside their country knowing about it. For more than 48 hours. Not even a mention on Twitter.

Yet apparently no one, including South Korean intelligence services, was aware that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had died early on Saturday - until his passing was tearfully announced on state television on Monday.

That medium itself appears antiquated in South Korea, frequently cited as the most wired country on the planet, where news is increasingly delivered and dissected via smartphone and social networking services.

A night-time image of the Korean peninsula taken by an intelligence satellite in 2002 shows North Korea as a pool of darkness, in stark contrast to the blazing sea of light that is its prosperous southern neighbor on the other side of the world's most heavily militarized border.

A decade later, little has changed.

Kim's death appears to have been kept a close secret within a tight coterie at the top of the reclusive North. There was no stream of Facebook or Twitter posts from the Internet-deprived country to spread the news as with the "Arab Spring."

South Korea's Internet users, accustomed to a near-instantaneous flow of information, were nearly as struck by the delay in the announcement as the news itself.

"The depth of information that South Korean intelligence sources have (on the North) is shallower than that of Twitter," posted user Links_Arc, referring to the popular microblogging service. "It's very regrettable that the government only found out about Kim's death two days later."   Continued...

<p>A customer looks at an Apple's iPhone 4 displayed for visitors at the registration desk at the headquarters of KT in Seoul September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>