The World

North Korea Dog Execution Story Started as a Social Media Joke

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves to the crowd during a military parade at Kim Il-sung Square marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013.

Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

That ultraviral story from last week that I and many other were skeptical of involving Kim Jong-un feeding his uncle to a pack of ravenous dogs appears to have originated as a satire on the Chinese microblogging site Tencent Weibo. (Another win for Tencent!)

Blogger Trevor Powell located the original post, which was included in the reporting of the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po. As Powell notes, the account that posted the original story “features a background image of cartoon Kim Jongun giving the middle finger to his people from a balcony while flanked by senior officers. …  One example of his/her style is this amusing tweet posted on U.S. Thanksgiving Day that says, ‘Today is Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day is the day for giving thanks to Kim Jongun. The American people eat turkey to thank him. What do you people eat?’ ”

So basically we seem to be talking about the Chinese version of @KimJongNumberUn. The claim was then rereported in English by the Singapore-based Straits Times, and from there it was off to the races.

The story is a little reminiscent of the numerous times Chinese and other foreign news agencies have fallen for Onion stories. In 2002 the Beijing Evening News reported that the U.S. Congress was moving out of Washington if it didn’t get a nicer Capitol. In 2012 the People’s Daily fell for a story that Kim Jong-un had been named the “sexiest man alive.” (This isn’t quite as bad as Iran’s FARS News Agency, which once not only fell for a story that in America “Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama,” but plagiarized it.)

For both Americans reading the dog story, and the Chinese outlets credulously basing reporting on the Onion, you can at least blame cultural misunderstanding and the fact that satire doesn’t translate all that well. Wen Wei Po doesn’t really have that excuse, though.