Facebook takes down government-run troll farm in Nicaragua

Multiple government agencies were involved in the effort, the company said.

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Facebook has taken out a government-run troll farm in Nicaragua, where multiple government agencies helped run a network of fake accounts and media pages that spanned across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. Facebook shared details of the network in its monthly report on coordinated inauthentic behavior on the platform.

In addition to hundreds of fake accounts on its platform, the troll farm also operated a “a complex network of media brands” on Blogspot, Wordpress and Telegram, Facebook said in a statement. Some fake accounts posed as government supporters, while some posed as university students, who led protests against the government in 2018. The fake account also mass-reported activists and other government critics in an attempt to get them banned from Facebook. Beginning in 2019, the group also began "posting and artificially amplifying praise about the Nicaraguan government and the ruling FSLN party."

While it’s not the first time Facebook has caught a government running this kind of operation, Facebook said the Nicaraguan effort was unique because they were able to link it to multiple government institutions, including the Social Security Institute and Supreme Court. The country’s post office headquarters Managua served as a “main hub” for the troll farm, and government workers even appeared to post on a regular 9am-5pm schedule.

“This was really the closest thing we've yet seen to a whole-of-government operation,” Facebook’s Global Threat Intelligence Lead for Influence Operations, Ben Nimmo, said during a call with reporters. “This is the first time that I can think of [that] we've seen so many different institutions getting involved.”

It’s also notable that Facebook traced the start of the operation back to 2018, meaning much of the activity went undetected for years. Nimmo noted that while the company’s automated systems were able to detect and disable some of the fake accounts in 2018, the operation was “complex” and time-consuming to investigate.