Nicaragua accused of running internet troll farm

Daniel Ortega
The accounts were allegedly controlled by Daniel Ortega’s government

The company behind Facebook and Instagram has removed more than 1,000 fake accounts in Nicaragua which it says were part of a disinformation campaign by the government.

Meta said those who ran the accounts included staff at the telecoms regulator and the Supreme Court. It comes ahead of presidential elections this weekend with the president’s main challengers jailed. The United States has described the election as a sham.

The accounts were controlled by Daniel Ortega’s government and the FSLN ruling party, Ben Nimmo, threat intelligence lead for Facebook parent company Meta, told the AFP news agency. Facebook closed 937 accounts, 140 pages and 24 groups, as well as 363 Instagram accounts, he said. All accounts were shut down last month.

The disinformation campaign allegedly began in 2018 as an effort to denigrate the opposition. It spread to other platforms, including TikTok and Twitter. In 2018, Mr Ortega’s regime cracked down on protests, killing more than 300 people. Tens of thousands of have since fled into exile.

“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”.

Analysis suggests that people were posting on the accounts as their day job, with a break for lunch. The government has been arresting opponents and critics since June on charges of treason or money-laundering. Many say the charges are baseless and designed to facilitate Mr Ortega’s re-election.

The EU’s foreign policy chief recently called Nicaragua “one of the worst dictatorships in the world”.

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