Meta, Facebook’s parent company, announced on Monday that it removed from its networks more than a thousand accounts managed by the Nicaraguan government to manipulate the public debate and attack the opposition, one week before the presidential elections.
“This was really a cross-government operation, the trolling farm consisted of several groups being run from multiple different government entities at once,” Global Intelligence Leader for Meta Influence Operations Ben Nimmo told AFP. during a video conference.
The farm had been operating since April 2018 and its networks were eliminated in October 2021. There are 937 Facebook accounts, 363 Instagram accounts, 140 pages and 24 groups.
The accounts were operated – according to Meta – by the Nicaraguan government or by the ex-guerrilla Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, left), in power since 2007.
The complaint is known a week before the general elections in Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega will seek a fourth consecutive term, while some 40 opponents are detained, including seven of his possible contenders.
Around 585,000 accounts followed these pages on Facebook and another 125,000 did so on Instagram. In addition, an investment of $ 12,000 in advertising was detected on both social networks, paid in Nicaraguan currency and US dollars.
The AFP requested a comment from the Nicaraguan government, but has not received a response so far.
-People, not bots-
According to the information provided by Meta, the network was essentially run by people, mainly employees of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Correos (Telcor), working from the central offices of the postal service in Managua. They weren’t bots or automated messages.
However, there were points of the operation that were handled by the Supreme Court and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, said Nimmo.
“These groups were technically connected to the main operation, so they were not separate efforts, they were branches of the main network,” he said.
The troll farm – digital troublemakers – created or invented alleged means of communication on sites such as Blogspot and WordPress, and spread them through accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and TikTok, as well as Facebook and Instagram.
“The goal was to flood the online conversation in Nicaragua with pro-government and anti-opposition messages,” Nimmo explained.
“We take down these networks based on the behavior in which we see them engage on our platform, it is not based on who are the actors behind it or the content they post, it is based on the behavior and use of fake accounts,” clarified.
In view of the fact that the information distribution was also done through networks outside the Meta conglomerate, “as usually happens when we take down these accounts, we share the information with our colleagues in the industry,” Meta’s Security Policy director told AFP. , David Agranovich.
According to the pattern detected, the trolls of the government network worked from Monday to Friday, from 9 to 5 in the afternoon, with spaces for lunch. Production was down on the weekends.
Meta, the matrix under which Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are now agglutinated, makes these revelations at a time when it is under public scrutiny for accusations of putting the growth of the firm before the security of its users’ data.
– Debunking –
The network began operating in April 2018, when protests against the government broke out, the repression of which left more than 300 dead and thousands of exiles.
According to specialists, at the end of 2019 it became sophisticated and began to criticize the opposition, multiplied its media brands and expanded its content in favor of the government.
They sought to generate the appearance of an intense public debate, when it really was a centrally orchestrated campaign, the specialists considered.
According to Meta, some of the media that were used to disseminate information against the opponents were “Molotov”, “Always beyond”, “Redvolución” or “Nicaragua Noticias Falsas”.
In April this year, Facebook removed accounts that intentionally sought to affect the image of a presidential candidate, in charge of a network run from Spain and Argentina.
It did the same in Peru in May with 80 accounts allegedly linked to a political party, for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic conduct,” which is what Meta calls the actions of the trolley farms. Facebook also left the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, accused by the social network of violating its rules, without a voice.
This year alone they have already removed government-linked accounts in countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Thailand or Azerbaijan, Agranovich said.
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.