Facebook has detected & dismantled a “troll farm” run by the Ortega regime, eliminating hundreds of FSLN-created fake accounts.
The “troll farm” was based within Nicaragua’s national telecommunications agency, Telcor, with other clusters in the country’s Supreme Court and Social Security offices. Twitter also suspended dozens of accounts. All this is taking place with less than a week to go before Ortega-Murillo reelect themselves on November 7th.
By Mildred Largaespada (Special for Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – On Monday, November 1, the newly rebranded Meta company, owners of Facebook, announced in their October monthly report that they had detected and eliminated a government-run “troll farm” in Nicaragua. The report goes on to specify: “We removed a network of 937 Facebook accounts, 140 Pages, 24 Groups and 363 Instagram accounts in Nicaragua.”
Some Ortega allies confirmed that several of their profiles had been eliminated on Facebook. On Thursday, October 28, they revealed that an undefined but large number of their Twitter accounts had also been suspended.
Meta informed that the “troll farm” operation, “targeted domestic audiences in that country and was linked to the government of Nicaragua and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party. We found one portion of this network through our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region, and another portion as a result of reviewing public reporting about some of this activity.”
The key concept Meta stressed was that of “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, or CIB. Beginning in 2018, the tech giant detected “a coordinated effort” on the part of the government “to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation. There are two types of these activities that we work to stop: 1) coordinated inauthentic behavior in the context of domestic, non-government campaigns; and 2) coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government actor.”
The government-run “troll farm” involved a coordinated effort based within Nicaragua’s public institutions. The Meta report mentions that it was a cross-government operation, “with multiple state entities participating in this activity at once. It was primarily operated by employees of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and the Post (TELCOR), working from the headquarters of the postal service in Managua. Additional smaller clusters of fake accounts were run from other government institutions, including the Supreme Court and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute.”
The Ortega regime’s network employed a strategy involving fake accounts on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, BlogSpot and Telegram. “They posted positive content about the government and negative commentary about the opposition, using hundreds of fake accounts to promote these posts,” states the investigation report by Luis Fernando Alonso and Ben Nimmo from Meta’s Threat Intelligence Team.
Fake Ortega supporters’ accounts suspended
Some of the Ortega supporters complained on their Twitter accounts that the company had suspended “thousands” or “two hundred” accounts. Refusing to recognize the “troll farm’s” existence, they called the Meta action an “imperialist attack”. They termed the massive suspension of accounts: “censorship, in order to create a media fence around Leftist accounts on the continent,” claiming that accounts in Venezuela have also been suspended.
Facebook and Twitter, however, stated that the suspension was due to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” of the Ortega-directed trolls and the proliferation of fake accounts.
Among the Nicaraguan Twitter accounts suspended are: @ElCuervoNica; @TPU19J; @nica_rojaynegra and its supporting account @nica_rojaynegraR; @sapitoFSLN; @elcuervoninja; @QueenMo1204; @JavierM_Monkey; and @taniasandinista.
All these profiles began on Friday to create new profiles, under the argument: “If they close one, we’ll open a hundred more,” because, “they couldn’t and they won’t be able to”, a reference to the political narrative spread by vice president and official government spokesperson Rosario Murillo, whose words were echoed all day long by the accounts from the dismantled “troll farm”.
As reported previously, some of these accounts, plus others, have been suspended from Twitter several times, due to their violent language that infringes on the rules of this social network.
On Facebook and Instagram
The Ortega social media accounts are also reporting the suspension of their Facebook pages: Barricada, RedVolución, Atabal, Red de Comunicadores, Adelante Siempre, Nicaragua Linda, El Manifiesto, La Mora Limpia, Molotov Digital, Todos con Daniel, and El Zanate. Also terminated was the Instagram account of Nicaragua Diseña, [Nicaragua Designs], the fashion platform run by Camila Ortega Murillo, daughter of the presidential couple. There’s currently intense activity on social media, calling on Ortega sympathizers to follow the new pages created, after the suspension of the Facebook “troll farm”.
“The use of government employees and infrastructure to run large-scale, cross-platform troll operations is an especially troubling trend: this year alone, we have taken down government-linked CIB networks in Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Thailand and Azerbaijan,” the Meta intelligence experts state in their report.
“When we find campaigns that include groups of accounts and Pages seeking to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing while relying on fake accounts, we remove both inauthentic and authentic accounts, pages and groups directly involved in this activity,” the Meta statement noted. That explains why some accounts not directly linked to the Ortega network have also been affected.
The Meta report is consistent with a systematic investigation Confidencial spearheaded beginning in December 2018, to study the Nicaraguan digital communities on social media. Since March 2021, we’ve been reporting the results of these investigations on the Confidencial platform, informing our audiences of the nature of public debate in Nicaraguan social media.
One of the revelations of the Meta report is the detection of the locations from which the fake Ortega-directed sites have been operating on social media, and how the FSLN has utilized the public institutions for their party goals.
This represents a severe blow to the digital communications strategy that the FSLN was promoting to spread its propaganda. Meta informed that the dismantled “troll farm” in Nicaragua reached 585,000 accounts of people who followed one or more of these pages. It also affected 74,500 accounts that had joined one or more of these groups, and nearly 125,000 accounts that followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. According to Meta, in these years, these accounts had spent over US $12,000 dollars on advertising through Facebook.