The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A rare glimpse of North Korea’s version of Facebook

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Most North Koreans can't access the Internet, and only foreigners can use the country's brand-new 3G cellular network. But the country has still developed its own rudimentary social network -- which you can now see for yourself, thanks to a SXSW panel the Associated Press's Jean Lee gave this weekend.

Lee shared this screenshot from the unnamed social network, which is more of an intranet bulletin board and is used largely to post birthday messages, especially among university students and professors.

In a Twitter message, Lee said she hasn't seen "much more than that" on the boards. Despite a widespread interest in technology there -- many people have Chinese-made tablets they call "iPads," and Kim Jong Eun has billed himself as something of a computer nerd -- there's little overt interest in undermining (or opening) the system. Lee said many people are actually proud of their domestic intranet, and she has seen no sign of underground usage.

Lee, the AP's Korea bureau chief and the only American journalist allowed regular access to North Korea, made headlines earlier this year when she sent some of the first tweets and Instagrams on North Korea's Koryolink network.

That 3G network, which Lee said she considers a small step toward Internet openness, is still available only to foreigners. North Koreans use "Red Star," a state-run operating system that includes government-sanctioned Web sites and local message boards, which means they can't access Western social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

"North Korea is one of the unique countries in the world because virtually every computer or technology that could be used for some social media application is regulated by the government,” Ramest Srinivasan, who studies social media and regime change, told the Post in 2011. "The North Korean censorship approach runs all the way down to the level of hardware."