Experts who study North Korea say that Google dealt them a “crippling blow” recently by shutting down two YouTube channels that broadcast the Hermit Kingdom’s propaganda, but a source inside the tech giant says the company’s “hands were tied” by U.S. sanctions.
The first channel to disappear on September 8 was Uriminzokkiri, which many analysts believe is a state-run operation out of China. A short message on YouTube says it was “terminated due to a legal complaint.” The second channel, Tonpomail, believed to be controlled by ethnic Koreans based in Japan, was finally taken down on September 12 “for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”
Publicly, Google has cited violations of its community guidelines and terms of service. Privately, sources at Google and YouTube who were briefed on the takedowns told VICE News the move was related to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government.
Analysts who work with the U.S. government say these channels were a vital window into the hidden world of North Korea, especially their missile development program, which in recent months has caused rising tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo, and especially Washington. Researchers say shutting them down could undermine U.S. national security.