Facebook and Instagram removed one of the largest networks of deceitful content having operated to date, less than a month before Nicaragua’s presidential elections. Directly handled by government agencies, some accounts have been influencing the population since 2018.
In October, Facebook and Instagram, removed a “troll farm run by the government of Nicaragua“.
The company said it was one of the biggest cross-government trolling operations they have disrupted to date.
Multiple government agencies were involved in the manipulation of information on social media. It went from employees of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Post (TELCOR), to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute or the Supreme Court, the report explains.
In October, 937 Facebook and 363 Instagram accounts, 140 pages and 24 groups all trying to influence Nicaraguans were removed. While the government’s fake accounts began operating in 2018, the suppression comes as the next President elections are held on November 7.
The removed pages were followed by 585,000 accounts, 74,500 joined these groups and the Instagram accounts accumulated 125,000 followers. Moreover, they had spent about US $12,000 on Facebook ads.
The deceitful campaigns went beyond Meta’s platforms and touched Tiktok, Twitter, YouTube as well as websites tied to news entities.
The troll farm shut down only weeks before Presidential elections with “no credibility“
In its report, Facebook classified the network as an example of a troll farm, “a coordinated effort by co-located operators to corrupt or manipulate public discourse by using fake accounts to build personas across platforms and mislead people about who’s behind them“.
This activity began in April 2018 as a way to criticize opposition leaders and discredit protesters of a social reform. It then became more complex in late 2019 with wider participation across the government to artificially praise its actions.
On November 7, Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega is seeking to be elected for a fifth term, the fourth in a row since 2007. His wife Rosario Murillo runs for vice president for a second term.
However, there is barely any suspense on the results.
No international observers will monitor the regularity of the elections. The Organization of American States regrouping 35 American countries condemned the “lack of guarantees of rights and freedom in the context of the elections“. The US Department of State considers that the “electoral process has lost all credibility“. Josep Borrell, the European Union representative for Foreign Affairs, said the elections were “not legitimate“.
Last August, the main opposition party in Nicaragua was barred from participating in November’s elections because the president of the party has a dual U.S. and Nicaraguan citizenship.
In the last 7 months, 37 opponents to the President have been arrested, including business, union, student or political figures. Miss Nicaragua 2017 and 6 other potential candidates to the Presidential elections have been barred from running.
Nicaragua intensified repression since social movements of 2018
Since April 2018, Daniel Ortega has been increasing its authority, crushing any form of opposition and reducing freedom rights. That month, thousands of Nicaraguans went down to the streets to protest against reforms of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute.
With a social security system near bankruptcy, the government wanted to make cuts in pensions and rise the social contributions paid by employers and employees. Ortega violently responded to the protests until eventually revoking the bill passed by the parliament. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the Organization of American States, had estimated that the repression of the social movement led to the death of 328 people – including 24 children and teenagers.
Since September 2020, the regime further tightened the grip by implementing a dozen repressive laws. Authorities “broadly and ambiguously define criminal offenses that later made it easier to charge individuals with all sorts of accusations without providing any evidence“, the Inter-American Press Association denounces.
With the Foreign Agents Regulation Law, 45 non-governmental organizations became illegal.
The Cybercrimes Law also forced into exiles numerous journalists. Article 30 states that “whoever publishes or relays fake and/or misrepresented information causing alarm, fear or anxiety among the population […] faces 2 to 4 years of prison and a fine of 300 to 500 days of salary“.
With the elections approaching, police forces raided news TV program installations and a newsroom last May. The general manager of the newspaper La Prensa and two members of the board of directors were deprived of freedom in August. A team of Honduran journalists was recently expelled to the country. Another team was refused entry at the border with Honduras. The government also refused entry to the correspondent of the French newspaper Le Monde earlier in October, and to a New York Times reporter in June.
Ahead of the elections, selling alcohol, carrying weapons or transporting chemical substances have been suspended.