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Kim Jong Un is the supreme leader of North Korea who assumed the position in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il.
While it is widely assumed that Kim has little presence on the state-controlled and heavily censored Internet, a lot of discussions surrounding North Korea’s latest head of state began circulating in the South Korean and Western social media following the death of his father Kim Jong Il and during his subsequent rise to power in December 2012.
Kim Jong Un Looking at Things
On December 18th, a parody blog titled Kim Jong Un Looking at Things launched. It was inspired by a similar blog utilizing state propaganda photos of his father, Kim Jong Il Looking At Things, which launched in October 2010. As of November 2012, the blog is still active.
Hungry Kim Jong Un
The day after Kim Jong Un Looking at Things launched, on December 19th, Redditor GunnieGraves submitted a photo to the Funny subreddit depicting Kimg Jong Un pointing at something with the caption “Ok so…can I eat this?” (shown below, left). The same day, a Quickmeme titled Hungry Kim Jong Un was established, with an instance (shown below, right) reaching the front page the same day. As of November 2012, it has more than 220 submissions. Four days after the first Reddit post, a single topic Tumblr titled Kim Jong Un is Hungry launched, using other photos of the leader with similar food-related captions.
TIME Person of the Year Campaign
On November 26th, 2012, users on 4chan‘s /b/ (random) message board began to organize a way to fix Time Magazine’s annual Person of the Year voting event  so Kim Jong Un would take the top place in the poll. Over the next 24 hours, multiple threads were posted to the forum with links to Pastebin documents of a VBS script as well as a downloadable Java-based program to help users vote in bulk.
An IRC channel was also set up with the name #OpFuckMorsy, as a reference to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi who stayed in the lead of the poll throughout November 26th. Later that same day, 4chan’s latest poll scheme was featured on Betabeat, the Daily Dotand Reddit, where a screenshot of one of the threads earned more than 9182 upvotes and 2148 points overall. On December 3rd, The Daily Dot published a follow-up article, which reported that Jong-un had passed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi for the top spot with 2.9 million votes (shown below).
Spelling Out “KJU Gas Chamber”
The article also reported that 4chan users aimed to spell the word “KJU Gas Chambers” with the first letter of the top 14 candidate’s names in the poll, alluding to North Korea’s gulag Camp 22 which has been accused of human rights violations from the international community. The same day, both ABC News and Gawker reported on the poll results. On December 4th, a new version of a script called “NKVoter” was released (shown below), which allows users to automate vote spamming. That same day, Jong-un’s votes reached 3.38 million.
On December 8th, Redditor DrHuxleyy submitted a post to the /r/4chan subreddit announcing that 4chan users managed to spell out “KJUGASCHAMBERS” in the Time poll and included a screenshot of the results (shown below). Within 48 hours, the post received over 13,200 up votes and 490 comments. The following day, Facepunch forums member koeniginator posted the same screenshot in a thread titled “4chan Does it again.”
On December 10th, The Daily Dot published an article titled “‘KJUGASCHAMBERS’: How hackers stole Person of the Year poll,” which included a statement by IRC user _js5, who created a java script automating the voting process:
“There really is nothing too exciting about the meaning, sorry to say. We chose it because it was clever, had semi-subtle offensive overtones, and wasn’t as childish as our second choice of KFCBUTTSEX.”
The Onion: Sexiest Man Alive for 2012
On November 14th, 2012, satirical news site The Onion posted an article naming Kim Jong Un as the site’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012. Five days later, Korean newspaper the Korean Times published an article on the Onion story. They noted in the Korean version that the Onion article was meant to be satirical, but left that out of the English translation. On November 27th, the official newspaper for the community party of China, the People’s Daily, reported on the story, complete with a 55 photo slideshow of the North Korean leader.
The North Korean newspaper’s misreporting of the Onion article was featured on the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, BBC News and Mashable. A news article on the subject from the Associated Press was submitted to the World News subredditwhere it earned 13,686 upvotes and 2862 points overall. Following the news coverage, the Onion amended their article, linking to the “exemplary reportage” provided by the People’s Daily.
Hoax: Kim Fed His Uncle to 120 Hungry Dogs
On December 13th, 2013, it was reported that Kim executed his own uncle Jang Song Thaek, a key figure in the North Korean regime widely considered to be the second most powerful man, following his arrest and expulsion from the post on charges of “anti-party and counter-revolutionary activities.” Upon execution, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency ran a 2700-word article detailing Jang’s crimes.
That same day, Hong Kong’s daily newspaper Wen Wei Po reported that Jang was executed by being stripped naked and fed alive to 120 hungry dogs, citing an account posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo. Although the story was largely ignored by the news outlets in China and South Korea, the sensational report was picked up by the Singaporean Strait Times on December 24th, eventually reaching the U.S. media and news blogs on December 26th.
Hoax: Kim Mandates His Hairstyle For Students
On March 25th, 2014, Washington D.C.-based North Korean news outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) published a report about a recently-enacted mandate that allegedly requires all North Korean university students to sport the signature hairstyles worn by the leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju. Citing unnamed local sources in the Southern Hamgyung region of the hermit nation, RFA added that, while the policy is said to have been treated more like a recommendation rather than a strictly enforced order, many students have reportedly expressed resentment towards the mandate since it went into effect in mid-March 2014.
The unconfirmed report was instantly picked up by several South Korean news publications and soon translated into English by The Korea Times, which gave further boost to the story’s viral momentum to spread across the English-language news outlets. That same day, numerous U.S. news outlets and blogs ran similar reports with headlines like “Every Man in North Korea Now Has to Get a Kim Jong-Un Haircut” (Gawker), “North Korea: Students required to get Kim Jong-un haircut” (BBC) and “North Korea mandates Kim Jong-un haircut for all men” (Washington Times). However, by the next day, the authenticity of the RFA report had come into question after the Associated Press skeptically reported that no such change in hairstyle has been noticed among the student population, citing numerous accounts of American tourists who have recently visited the country.
On June 11th, 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s official YouTube channel uploaded the first teaser trailer for the film The Interview, which is scheduled to be released in October 2014. The film follows a talk show host and his producer, played by James Franco and Seth Rogen respectively, who are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un after the two arrange an interview with him. Within two weeks the video gained over 5 million views.
On June 25th, a representative for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement about the film, saying:
“If the United States administration tacitly approves or supports the release of this film, we will take a decisive and merciless countermeasure.”
The threat was covered by many sites the same day including TIME, the BBC and The Daily Dot. Also the same day, Seth Rogen tweeted a joking response to the threat. In less than 48 hours, the tweet received over 8,000 favorites and over 5,000 retweets.
In late November 2014, weeks before the box office premiere of The Interview, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s online database was hit by critical cyberattacks from a group of hackers who identified themselves as the Guardians of Peace (GOP), leading to the leak of private corporate data at an unprecedented volume in the tens of terabytes in early December. Among other things, the leaked data included many scripts and screeners of recently released or upcoming films to be distributed by the studio, like Fury, Annie, Still Alice, Mr. Turner and To Write Love On Her Arms, as well as personally identifiable information and corporate profiles of over 6,000 employees.
In the following week, cybersecurity experts began speculating that North Korea’s state-run secretive hacking group, which has been dubbed “DarkSeoul” in the South Korean media, may have been behind the attacks as a retaliatory measure against Sony Pictures Entertainment for planning to release The Interview, citing circumstantial but telling evidences, including a suspicious IP address traced back to a location where North Korean agents are known to remain operative, similarities in the style of the hackers’ messages posted during the 2013 cyberattacks against South Korea and the Sony Pictures incident (shown below), as well as the discovery of Korean characters in the software that was used to breach the system.
On December 4th, North Korean officials released a statement denying any involvement in the cyberattack, though one of them implied that the hack “might [have been] a righteous deed” of its supporters or sympathizers. Then on December 8th, GitHub user GOP released another large batch of internal data obtained from Sony Pictures employees’ computers in a post titled “Gift of GOP for 4th day: Their Privacy.” In the post, the group demanded the company to stop the release of The Interview in order to prevent any further attacks or leaks:
We have already given our clear demand to the management team of SONY, however, they have refused to accept. It seems that you think everything will be well, if you find out the attacker, while no reacting to our demand. We are sending you our warning again. Do carry out our demand if you want to escape us. And, Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War! You, SONY & FBI, cannot find us. We are perfect as much. The destiny of SONY is totally up to the wise reaction & measure of SONY.
Not much is known about Kim Jong Un’s personal life, including his birthday which may have been in either 1983 or 1984. He attended boarding school in Switzerland under a fake name, where he was said to have had poor grades, but enjoyed skiing, the American NBA and actor Jean Claude Van Damme. Kim Jong Un married a North Korean woman named Ri Sol-ju in 2009, but this information was not made public until July 2012.
People’s Daily English – North Korea’s top leader named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012
Los Angeles Times – Onion to People’s Daily: ‘Exemplary reportage’ on ‘sexiest man’
The Daily Dot – 4chan Helps Kim Jong-un Top Time Person of the Year Poll
South China Morning Post – Post tops survey on newspaper credibility as trust in Hong Kong media sinks to all-time low
The Strait Times – "Jang’s execution bodes ill for China":www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/asia-report/china/story/jangs-execution-bodes-ill-china-20131224
Washington Post – No, Kim Jong Un probably didn’t feed his uncle to 120 hungry dogs
Radio Free Asia – North Korean College Students Ordered to Adopt Leader Kim’s Haircut
Wall Street Journal – Email Claims Fresh Sony Data Released, Threatens Studio
Voice of America – North Korea Denies Involvement in Cyberattacks on Sony Pictures