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Facebook takes down Nicaraguan government-run troll farm

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Facebook said it closed 937 accounts, 140 pages and 24 groups, as well as 363 Instagram accounts that all sought to spread anti-opposition messages in Nicaragua./AFP
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Nov 02, 2021 - 06:13 AM

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — Facebook said Monday it had closed a Nicaraguan government troll farm spreading anti-opposition messages ahead of presidential elections this weekend with the president’s main challengers behind bars.

The accounts, closed in October, were operated by Daniel Ortega’s government and the FSLN ruling party, Ben Nimmo, threat intelligence lead for Facebook parent company Meta, told AFP.

“This was really a cross-government operation, the troll farm consisted of several clusters which were run from multiple… government entities at once,” he said.

Facebook closed 937 accounts, 140 pages and 24 groups, as well as 363 Instagram accounts, he said.

The news came ahead of presidential elections Sunday in which Ortega will seek a fourth successive term, with seven potential challengers among about 40 opposition figures under arrest.

Ortega’s government has been rounding up opponents since June on charges of treason or money-laundering that critics say are trumped up and designed to facilitate his reelection.

A Facebook statement said the troll operation was run primarily by employees of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and the Post (TELCOR), working from the headquarters of the postal service in Managua.

Smaller clusters of fake accounts were run from other government institutions such as the Supreme Court and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, said Nimmo.

“The goal was to flood the online conversation in Nicaragua with pro-government and anti-opposition messages,” he said.

Facebook said in a statement 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 operation entailed a complex network of media brands across Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Blogspot and Telegram, as well as websites tied to these entities, said Facebook.

Added Nimmo: “These operators were clearly doing this as their day job if you look at the pattern of posting over time, they were posting during regular working hours, nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, with a break for lunch.”

The troll farm started operating in April 2018, when Ortega’s government violently put down a wave of protests. More than 300 people were killed in the clampdown, and tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled into exile since.

Last month, the EU’s foreign policy chief branded Nicaragua “one of the worst dictatorships in the world,” while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the regime of “undemocratic, authoritarian actions.”

Nicaragua is under American and European sanctions.

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