Those trying to access the photo-sharing app in North Korea are being told that access is denied.
Attempts to access Instagram in North Korea are met with a warning message which tells users that the site is now blacklisted due to the inclusion of harmful content, writes Eric Talmadge for The Associated Press.
Warning message says Instagram is blacklisted
The warning message appears when opening Instagram with a mobile device connected to Koryolink, the North Korean carrier. The message, in English, reads as follows: “Warning! You can’t connect to this website because it’s in blacklist site.” The Korean version of the warning adds that the site contains harmful content, which is not specified in the English version.
Attempts to access websites which link to Instagram have also been blocked on desktops or laptops which use fixed internet connections from North Korea’s internet provider.
Most North Koreans are unable to access the internet or any form of social media, however foreign visitors have been able to use 3G connections on their smartphones since 2013. The move allowed visitors to post on social media such as Facebook and Instagram, and recently stream live video using Periscope, but usually requires them to buy a local SIM card.
Leaked images of fire may have provoked restrictions
Although they are few in number, the publishing of images from the country on Instagram is a concern to North Korean authorities. Staff at Koryolink claimed to be unaware of a change in policy regarding Instragram, and no official announcement has been made about its blacklisting.
Users of some mobile devices were able to use the app despite the warning message, however the posting and viewing of content was almost impossible, and experts believe that access is being restricted.
Information on the blockage is lacking, and it is not yet known whether it was a hack of some kind, or related to a fire at a hotel commonly used by foreign visitors to the country.
Photos of the fire were published by media outlets around the world before it was reported by North Korea’s state media. Instagram appeared to be the only website affected, with other social media such as Facebook functioning normally.
Foreigners allowed “near open access to the web”
Although smartphone ownership is on the rise in North Korea, the majority of the 2 million users are not allowed to access the Internet. Koryolink’s 3G service is mainly used by foreigners.
The CEO of a company which organizes tours to North Korea stated that she had not been told of an official move to block Instagram.
“We have been using Instagram to post photos from our (North Korea) tours since Koryolink, the local provider, announced that 3G SIM cards would be available to foreigners for purchase,” said Andrea Lee of Uri Tours. “While I’m unaware of this recent shift in policy toward blocking Instagram, I hope this will be a temporary policy as it’s been a great tool for our company to show prospective travelers what our tours are like and to get people motivated in traveling there.”
Most tourists choose not to buy the local SIM due to its high cost, but those who do enjoy “near open access to the web,” added Lee.
Could leaked images of the fire have provoked a ban on Instagram? Or has the site fallen victim to a hack? So far officials in Pyongyang have declined to comment on the situation, but it appears likely that the government wishes to control the flow of images out of the country.