View of the city of Granada, Nicaragua

Nicaraguan government accused of running Facebook ‘troll farm’

Image credit: Riderfoot/Dreamstime

Facebook has removed a troll farm with over 1,000 Facebook and Instagram accounts, which it claims are run by the Nicaraguan government and the country’s ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

According to the social media firm, the troll farm – a coordinated effort to manipulate public discourse using fake accounts – was aimed at amplifying pro-government and anti-opposition content.

It had been active on its platforms since 2018 and was primarily operated by staff of Telcor, Nicaragua’s telecoms watchdog, working from the postal service headquarters in the capital Managua.

Facebook added that the Supreme Court, which has been an Ortega ally, and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute also ran smaller clusters of fake accounts.

“This was one of the most cross-government troll operations we’ve disrupted to date, with multiple state entities taking part in this activity at once,” Facebook’s investigators said in their report on the matter.

Facebook said it had this year alone taken down other government-linked networks from Ethiopia, Uganda, Thailand and Azerbaijan for breaking its rules against so-called coordinated inauthentic behaviour, calling this “an especially troubling trend”.

The company, which last week announced that it would start trading as Meta Platforms Inc from early December 2021, has been under scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators over potential harms linked to its platform, particularly after former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents.

Nicaragua will hold its presidential election this coming Sunday (November 7), which Washington has denounced as a sham organised by an increasingly authoritarian Ortega.

Facebook said the troll operation ran a network of blogs, websites and social media assets across TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram.

A spokesperson for Alphabet Inc’s Google, which owns YouTube, said the company had terminated 82 YouTube channels and three blogs as part of its ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Nicaragua.

“These channels had fewer than 1,500 subscribers in total and primarily uploaded spam-like content in Spanish about gaming and sports,” they said. “A small subset uploaded content supportive of President Ortega and the Sandinista party and criticising the US. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Facebook.”

Facebook said the activity began in April 2018, as student-led protests against the government broke out. It added the network created fake accounts to discredit the protesters, including posing as students and attempting coordinated reporting of critics’ accounts.

According to Facebook, from late 2019 onward such accounts increasingly focused on posting and amplifying pro-government content.

Facebook said it had removed 937 Facebook accounts, 140 pages, 24 groups and 363 Instagram accounts as part of the alleged Nicaraguan network.

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