It’s been the buzz all day Friday: the twenty-something plump tyrant of North Korea has been assassinated! On an embassy trip to Beijing, mere months after he abruptly came to power, the leader of Communist North Korea was done in by a military coup. Or was the coup unsuccessful? Or was it Kim himself who was setting out to do in his half brother? None of it’s clear. With North Korea and their clandestine government, who knows? It’s not like we can give Kim a courtesy call. Their government itself has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to think the whole thing is a groundless hoax.
“There’s nothing to this,” said a U.S. official, noting the lack of any substantiating evidence to support the claim. Another official said, “Our experts are monitoring the situation and we see no abnormal activity on the [Korean ] peninsula and nothing that credits that tweet as accurate.”
It all comes down to tweets, anyway. On the Chinese version of twitter, Weibo, blogger Joe Xu made an early response to this with, “nothing is verified only report of large number of cars at NL embassy, but rumors like this pop up every other week.” Since then, that message has transmogrified into the Twitter message posted by account @BBCLiveNews: “Confirmed breaking news. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un assassinated. Updates to follow.” Within an hour, 2,000 more had picked it up. And from there it exploded.
This supposedly trustworthy source, however, came from an account that before Friday had only 52 followers and irrelevant messages ranting against someone named “Gary Glitter.”
It’s not the first time something like this has happened. In January, Weibo had also claimed Kim had been overthrown in a military coup. With the Orwellian control North Korea holds over its media, paranoid rumors and sly pranksters have fertile soil for spreading gossip. It took hours after Kim Jong Il’s death before the world was clued in – something that would never happen in the West – and the freight trains that may have been attacked last December in North Korea still has no official explanation for the rest of the world. The very leadership status of Kim Jong-un remains a matter of speculation: he is young and surrounded by many aged military leaders. Who is in control? We don’t know. What we do know, more or less, is that Kim Jong-un probably has not been assassinated.
Unfortunately, our biggest clue to North Korean news amounts to little more than the movement of its troops during tense situations. So long as they remain that isolated, we may hear such sort of rumor storms about North Korea come up again.