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Facebook busts Nicaragua government’s fake news operation

New York: Facebook says it has removed a troll farm with more than 1000 Facebook and Instagram accounts which it was said was run by the Nicaraguan government and the country’s ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

The social media company said the troll farm – a coordinated effort to manipulate public discourse using fake accounts – was intended to amplify pro-government and anti-opposition content. It said it had been active on its platforms for five years and was primarily operated by staff of TELCOR, Nicaragua’s telecoms watchdog, working from the postal service headquarters in capital Managua.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.Credit:AP

The Supreme Court, which has been an Ortega ally, and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute also ran smaller clusters of fake accounts, Facebook said.

The Supreme Court and the office of Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the spokeswoman for President Daniel Ortega and his government, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about the report.

“This was one of the most cross-government troll operations we’ve disrupted to date, with multiple state entities participating in this activity at once,” Facebook’s investigators said in their report.

Facebook said it had this year taken down other government-linked networks from Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Thailand and Azerbaijan for breaking its rules against so-called coordinated inauthentic behaviour, calling this “an especially troubling trend”.

President Daniel Ortega’s government has stood out for its refusal to impose measures to halt the new coronavirus for more than two months since the disease was first diagnosed in Nicaragua. Credit:AP

The company, which last week announced it would start trading as Meta Platforms on December 1, has been under scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators over potential harms linked to its services, particularly after former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents.

Nicaragua will hold its presidential election on Sunday, which the United States has denounced as a sham organised by an increasingly authoritarian Ortega.

Facebook said the operation ran a network of blogs, websites and social media assets across other platforms including TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram.

A spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, said the company had terminated 82 YouTube channels and three blogs as part of its ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Nicaragua.

“These channels had fewer than 1500 subscribers in total and primarily uploaded spammy content in Spanish about gaming and sports. A small subset uploaded content supportive of President Ortega and the Sandinista party and criticising the US. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Facebook,” they said.

The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook said the activity began in April 2018, as student-led protests against the government broke out. It said the network created fake accounts to discredit the protesters, including through posing as students and through attempting coordinated reporting of critics’ accounts. From late 2019, it increasingly focused on posting and amplifying pro-government content.

Facebook said it removed 937 Facebook accounts, 140 pages, 24 groups and 363 Instagram accounts as part of the Nicaraguan network.

Reuters

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