By Hugo Alberto Montero, 3L
Meta Platforms, the company formerly known as Facebook, announced that it deleted more than 1,000 fake Facebook and Instagram accounts that were allegedly part of a misinformation operation run by the government of Nicaragua. The accounts were maintained by the government of the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, and the ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The disinformation campaign allegedly began in 2018 as an effort to slander opposing candidates and political parties.
The network was operated primarily by Nicaragua’s Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (Telcor) staffers off the postal headquarters in the capital, Managua. Facebook stated that the Supreme Courtand the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, allies to Ortega, also ran small clusters of fake accounts. “This network was 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,” according to the Meta Platforms report.
In a statement, Facebook said the network was “a coordinated effort… to corrupt or manipulate public discourse by using fake accounts to build personas across platforms and mislead people about who’s behind them.” The official number of accounts removed were as follows: 937 Facebook accounts, 24 groups, 140 pages, and 363 Instagram accounts. The report published by the social media conglomerate stated, “[t]his was one of the most cross-government troll operations we’ve disrupted to date, with multiple state entities participating in this activity at once.” The Supreme Court and the office of Vice President Rosario Murillo, spokeswoman for Ortega and his government, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment about the report.
This action by Facebook’s threat intelligence came ahead of the presidential elections that took place on Sunday, November 7, 2021. Ortega pursued, and won, a fourth consecutive term. However, the election is nothing but a farce. The United States described the election as a sham as the President’s main challengers are presently in prison. The EU’s foreign policy chief recently called Nicaragua “one of the worst dictatorships in the world.”
In 2018, Ortega’s government killed more than 300 people in its efforts to crack down on protests. Ten of thousands of people have since fled the country because of safety concerns. The government has been arresting its critics since June on charges of treason or money-laundering. Many analysts say the charges are frivolous and are only brought up to simplify Ortega’s re-election. Fifty-nine members of the UN Human Rights Council issued a joint statement on June 22, 2021 pressing Ortega to end “the harassment of journalists and human rights defenders and to allow civil society organizations to operate in safe and enabling environments, without fear or reprisal.” Sadly, a real change of fortunes for the people of Nicaragua does not look likely any time soon.