Is censorship a factor in the cancelation of the media accounts from Nicaragua’s “troll farm”? Not at all, because they weren’t legitimate exercise of free expression.
By Uriel Pineda* (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – News of the elimination of 937 Facebook accounts, 140 Facebook pages, 363 Instagram accounts, and a large but undefined number of Twitter accounts has produced something of a commotion. The social media restrictions didn’t end there either – 82 YouTube channels and 3 blogs were also canceled shortly afterwards. What are the human rights implications of the closure of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s “troll farm”?
The regime spokespersons’ cries of “censorship” go beyond ironic, to outright shamelessness, given their own long record of this. They’re responsible for assuring impunity for the assassins of journalist Angel Gahona. In addition, they’ve raided and occupied the Confidencial newsroom and installations twice; they’ve taken over the equipment and site of the 100% Noticias television news channel, and twice imprisoned Michael Mora, its owner. They left the country’s longest-running opposition newspaper La Prensa without newsprint, then occupied its installations and jailed its general manager. They’ve perpetrated an infinite number of attacks against independent journalists in Nicaragua, forcing many them into exile. And they’ve currently denied the international press entrance into the country to cover the elections.
However, the regime’s cynicism, like their intention of remaining in power at any cost, has no limits.
Is the cancellation of the Ortega-Murillo’s “troll farm” a form of censorship? Clearly it’s not, since for censorship to exist, there must first be a legitimate exercise of free expression. The coordinated use of social media to discredit and stigmatize government opponents or to spread the propaganda of a criminal regime isn’t free expression. The latter involves the universal right of all individuals or communications outlets to seek, receive and spread information and ideas through any means. The expression “through any means” naturally includes the use of the social networks.
Free expression is a right that opposes power. Consequently, forces in power can’t claim as free expression their manipulation of social media through a coordinated action aimed at reviling their opponents and artificially spreading the regime’s propaganda.
In fact, the cancellation of these “troll farms” is a measure compatible with international standards of free expression. From the perspective of collective free expression (society’s right to be informed), the existence of a “troll farm” undermines society’s right to be informed, insofar as it distorts the plurality of media outlets and the diversity of contents.
Put another way, the existence of the “troll farm” deliberately alters the free circulation of ideas and information, which society as a whole has a right to access.
But the cancelation of this “troll farm” is also in accordance with an emerging human right, the so-called digital right to be forgotten. The right to digital forgetting is the right that allows an individual to ask those controlling search engines to eliminate their name from the search results, when it appears in association with public information on third-party websites containing contents that are no longer relevant, necessary or accurate. This right was established by the European Union’s Justice Tribunals in 2014, through ruling number C-131/12.
The “troll farm”, like all the regime’s activities, had the goal of supporting its perpetuation in power. The utilization of these sites to discredit, stigmatize and revile critical or opposing voices was one more tool for them. Hence, the cancellation of the “troll farm” favors the right of those who have been victims of the regime’s slander to be digitally forgotten.
Finally, the social networks have become the vehicle for overcoming the officially imposed censorship of the Ortega-Murillo regime in Nicaragua. These networks are some of the most important allies the Blue and White (opposition) struggle possesses. The cancellation of the regime’s “troll farm” represents more than just a blow to the regime and its poorly credible propaganda. It’s an action that supports the Nicaraguan people in their fight for freedom.
Likewise, it is also a conclusive message from the social networks that connect the greater part of the world’s population. With it, they’re now telling a miserable regime that they don’t have the right to use their social networks to deny that they assassinate, torture, imprison, censor, and repress the people.
*The author holds a Master’s degree in human rights.