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The tyrant who tweets: following the hermit king

His new nemesis, Barack Obama, is on Twitter. So are many of the movie stars that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is known to admire. So perhaps it's no surprise that the regime led by the self-described film buff and Internet fan has also joined the fast-moving social networking site.

North Korea has for decades been the most isolated country on the planet, with almost no links to the outside world. The Internet can be accessed only by the most powerful and well-connected in Pyongyang, while ordinary North Koreans aren't allowed to possess mobile phones.

Which is why the discovery Monday that the North Korean government has a Twitter page caused a stir in the world known as the Twitterverse.

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"First they got nukes. Next level: Twitter account!" tweeted Mikaël Hardy, a French engineer living in the Chinese city of Shenzhen and one of the first to discover that Mr. Kim's regime had gone online using the account kcna_dprk.

Word spread fast. Within hours, more than 300 people were "following" the North Korean Twitterer, including this reporter. To my surprise, the kcna_dprk immediately returned the compliment and deigned to follow my postings as well.

The Pyongyang Twitterer's bio reads "News from Korean Central News Agency of DPRK," referring to the news service that has long been the official voice of the regime (the country's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea). All of its 467 updates since going online in April have been English versions of the agency's news reports.

Mysteriously, another Twitter page (koreadpr) claims to be the Twitter page of Mr. Kim himself, who has bragged in the past of his Internet knowledge and once asked U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address. However, it sits empty other than an image of North Korea's official state emblem and a link to the government's website.

First they got nukes. Next level: Twitter account! Tweeter Mikaël Hardy

Perhaps Mr. Kim, not accustomed to being cut off when he's speaking, knew he couldn't keep himself within the 140-character limit imposed on Twitter postings, or "tweets."

Some of the postings by the KCNA's Twitterer are baffling to read, while others are unintentionally hilarious.

"An unfathomable mental power of all the people has erupted like an active volcano and new standards and records stirring the era are being created in an unbroken chain in all sectors of socialist construction on the crest of the surging tide of the 150-day campaign in the DPRK," read one report that readers were suggested to link to. The headline was tweeted as "New Speed of Great Advance Created in DPRK."

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Other tweets in recent days included "Intensified Anti-imperialist Struggle Called For" and "U.S. Invariable Ambition for World Domination Flayed."

New medium, old messages.

There were no postings, however, regarding the regime's nuclear test Monday, which drew worldwide condemnation. And while my new friend kcna_dprk was obviously at the computer, he or she didn't respond to my requests for either a comment on the news or a casual conversation.

Despite the apparently earnest nature of whomever was behind the news agency's Twitter page, they were bombarded with lighthearted and semi-serious banter as soon as their presence was noticed.

"They could have at least Tweeted that they were set for an N-test!" suggested one Japanese contributor.

"@kcna_dprk Make kimchi not war!" tweeted someone living in Shanghai.

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Some Twitterers were slightly unnerved to see that the silent North Korean was quick to "follow" anyone who subscribed to their Twitter feed, particularly South Koreans.

Though kcna_dprk posted nothing all day, a few saw a chance to reach out to someone inside the reclusive regime.

"Ok, people, @kcna_dprk just followed me back," wrote one China-based Twitterer who gave her name as Min Zheng. "Now, what do I say to make a difference in today's world?"

Click here to go to Mark MacKinnon's Twitter profile where you can follow his updates

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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