Meta Deletes Over 1,000 Nicaraguan Accounts It Claims Were FSLN ‘Troll Farm’ Days Before Election
01:17 GMT 02.11.2021 (Updated: 18:21 GMT 03.11.2022)
Just days before nationwide elections in Nicaragua, Meta has deleted more than a thousand accounts on Facebook and Instagram it claims were part of a disinformation “troll farm” run by the ruling Sandinista party. It’s just the latest example of the social media giant taking concerted actions against US enemies alongside the US government.
On Monday, Ben Nimmo, the head of Facebook-turned-Meta’s
global threat intelligence strategy, announced that the social media giant had taken down what he claimed
was a “a troll farm run by the government of Nicaragua and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party.”
The takedown included 937 Facebook accounts, 140 Pages, 24 Groups and 363 Instagram accounts in Nicaragua.
The Meta report claimed
the accounts were “one of the most cross-government troll operations we’ve disrupted to date, with multiple state entities participating in this activity at once,” but primarily run by employees of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and the Post (TELCOR) 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 report said.
“They posted positive content about the government and negative commentary about the opposition, using hundreds of fake accounts to promote these posts,” it added. “The campaign appeared to aim at flooding the cross-internet environment in Nicaragua with pro-government messages.”
The report goes on to state that the effort began in April 2018, “as the Nicaraguan government repressed a wave of student-led nationwide protests.”
As Sputnik reported
at the time, those protests, which followed the passage of a reform law, quickly revoked, that increased social security contributions by employers and employees while lowering the program's benefits, were both driven and amplified by US meddling, which portrayed them as a bloodbath at the hands of Nicaraguan police. Independent Nicaraguan researcher Enrique Hendrix demonstrated
that the death toll uncritically repeated across the Western press had been vastly inflated using duplicated names, unconfirmed deaths, and deaths wholly unrelated to the protests.
In fact, armed gangs backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US State Department agency, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA front group, were targeting Sandinistas for violence even as police attempted to deescalate the situation by temporarily disarming, Grayzone journalist Max Blumenthal told Sputnik
from Nicaragua at the time.
That Meta, which recently pivoted its corporate structure to focus on the “metaverse” virtual reality project it pioneered in conjunction with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), would repeat such a line should be unsurprising. The social media giant has buttressed its senior ranks
in recent years with right-wing think tank academics who are closely aligned with the US National Security State.
Nimmo, who heads the company’s “influence operation threat” department, is a former spokesperson for NATO, a former writer on retainer for UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office cutout Integrity Initiative
- of which then-Facebook was also a major financial backer
- and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a hawkish Washington think tank funded by a bevy of defense contractors, Gulf monarchies and - yep, NATO.
Nimmo’s colleague, security chief Nathaniel Gleicher, is also a senior associate
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), another think tank with major influence on US foreign policy that’s funded by many of the same donors as the Atlantic Council, and a former senior counsel at the US Department of Justice.
Similarly, Facebook's director of "threat disruption,” David Agranovich
, was formerly director of intelligence for the White House National Security Council in 2017 and 2018 under then-US President Donald Trump, covering the period in which the US offensive to undermine Nicaraguan democracy began.
‘I’m Not a Bot!’: Victim of US Attack Speaks Out
However, shortly after the takedown, those whose accounts had been deleted began speaking out.
“I’m not a bot; I’m not a troll,” Ligia Sevilla, an activist in Managua whose Facebook and Twitter accounts were both disabled in the last few days, told journalist Benjamin Norton on Monday afternoon. “Maybe Facebook doesn’t allow us to be Sandinistas?”
Another person whose account was deleted, Darling Huete, a journalist for Canal 4 Nicaragua, replied to Nimmo’s tweet announcing the takedown by saying: “I am not a troll! I had my personal account for more than 10 years, and your company deleted my profile and all of my years of photos with my friends, simply because I do not write what you want. This is what you call ‘democracy’?”
“I want to show you I’m not a troll. That’s why I’m asking Facebook: why did you suspend me?” Tyler Moreno Diaz, another Sandinista activist from the Caribbean coast, said in a statement on Twitter.
“That is meddling,” Moreno added. “That is violating our right to free expression. They won’t be able [to defeat us] and they won’t!”
Just days earlier, Twitter also disabled
the accounts of numerous popular Sandinista users, for which it has still given no explanation.
Indeed, it seems that Meta regards being a Sandinista or supporting Sandinistas on its platform is itself against the rules.
Meta, Twitter, Google, and other US-based tech giants have taken similar positions toward other US official enemies in recent years, accusing accounts
that post from countries like Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Cuba, and China
of being bots or paid trolls and defined their opposition to the US State Department’s official narrative as being “coordinated inauthentic content.”
When the US government uses their platforms to undermine those nations, however, as happened in Cuba
in July, they look the other way.
Undermining Nicaragua’s Elections
Meta’s actions come amid a larger offensive by the Biden administration aimed at undermining support for the democratic socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and Nicaragua’s elections this coming weekend.
On Friday, Reuters reported
, citing “a senior State Department official,” that the White House was coordinating an international sanctions regime it intends to foist upon the Central American nation “in response to the November 7 election.”
According to the report, the Biden administration is reviewing Nicaragua’s membership in the CAFTA-DR regional trade agreement, looking for legal barriers to removing it if Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “rigs the elections in his favor,” Reuters says. Roughly 60% of Nicaragua’s exports go to the United States, most of which are apparel, rolled tobacco, and produce such as raw sugar and coffee, according to data
collected by the OEC.
The administration has been preparing a Venezuela-like blockade
against Nicaragua for months. The Reinforcing Nicaragua's Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act
, introduced into Congress in March, would impose crippling limitations on Nicaragua’s ability to access financial resources by accusing Ortega and other Nicaraguan government officials and functionaries of complicity in human rights abuses, “including arbitrary detentions, torture, and sexual violence as a form of intimidation” and suppression of the press.
RENACER would also provide for increased US espionage efforts inside Nicaragua on top of already-existing efforts, continuing a trend lasting 40 years.
In September, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on what it called “Ortega’s Destruction of Democracy” after more than two dozen Nicaraguan opposition figures were arrested
, including some who were election candidates.
However, those arrested played leading roles
in the 2018 riots, including Lesther Alemán, a former student leader; Juan Sebastian Chamorro, a US-trained economist and head of the FUNIDES think tank who heads the group Civic Alliance for Justice in Democracy, which united with other
opposition groups, including Alemán’s, last year to “reinvigorate the fight" and “rebuild the country.”
Also arrested was Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, whose Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy has long served as a third-party “pass-through” for CIA money
to cultivate an anti-Sandinista opposition movement in Nicaragua.
Four Decades of US Counter-Revolution
Ortega, who heads the FLSN, originally seized power in 1979 when it threw out the corrupt Somoza family's dictatorship, an entity that enjoyed close US support for its anti-communist and anti-populist credentials. However, right-wing guerrillas known as the Contras, who enjoyed extensive US backing, waged a guerrilla campaign in the countryside against institutions of the Sandinista government, including clinics and schools, the centerpieces of the government's social welfare program. By the time of elections in 1990, Nicaraguans voted the FLSN out of power in order to escape the US economic blockade and murderous proxy war.
However, the FLSN returned in 2006 when Ortega won a plurality of the presidential vote and he has won re-election twice since then, in 2011 and 2016. Under his leadership, Nicaragua has partnered with regional left-wing governments like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, to build institutions like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples' Trade Treaty (ALBA TCP), which promoted regional trade and self-reliance over an unequal, US-centered relationship.
When neighboring Honduras attempted to join the bloc in 2009, the US helped orchestrate the removal from power of President Manuel Zelaya, who was replaced by a neoliberal police state
that has produced a huge exodus of poor, indigenous, and LGBTQ people.