Facebook’s crucial role in Nicaragua’s civil unrest

How social media has become a 'tool' to organise street protests in Nicaragua.
Protests in Nicaragua
Photo: Adam Baker/(CC BY 2.0)

Nicaragua’s civil unrest has now claimed 448 lives since protests began on 18 April. Initial backlash started after President Daniel Ortega implemented controversial pension reforms, but the unfair treatment of peaceful protestors has led to more than three months of violence.

The pension reforms were quickly scrapped, but it was too little too late for Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) Government. Protests are no longer about pensions, they’re about freedom of speech and human rights. Ortega and his loyalists violently attacked peaceful protesters, leading to three deaths. Videos of the violence surfaced on social media, sparking more people to take to the streets to fight for their right to speak freely.

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Facebook vs ‘fake news’

Social media, in particular Facebook, has played a large part in the civil unrest and been utilised by anti-government protesters in various ways. The FSLN restricts media coverage, with most TV station owned by Ortega’s family, meaning the nation only sees what Ortega wants them to see. The few TV companies that were broadcasting the violence against protesters, had their signal cut in a bid to keep protests at bay. This has left Facebook as the only source of media showing true footage of the protests.

Nicaraguan Martin Sanchez spoke to Words in the Bucket and said: “social networks were very helpful for the entire population of Nicaragua,” especially at the onset, when state media was sharing false information and denied shooting at peaceful protesters.

Facebook is not just a source of information for anti-government protesters but a tool. “When you have to plan or help protests, Facebook is used a lot,” he said. The use of Facebook presents the question of how significant it has been in the earlier stages of the civil unrest – from intensifying protests to highlighting human rights violations.

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Social media – a life saver?

Facebook is being used by medical teams who help those injured during the violence. Hospital staff are forbidden from helping anti-government protesters, and some are fired for doing so. This has left many receiving fatal and life changing injuries helpless. Yasiri Lopez from the Movimiento Brigadista de Médicos de Nicaragua told Words in the Bucket that: “[Social media] networks have played a very important role. It is by this means that we have come to contact the people who are in need.”

Without Facebook, the team would not know where the injured were located, some of which suffer from bullet wounds and trauma. Medical teams such as Movimiento Brigadista de Médicos de Nicaragua are playing a key part in assisting the injured, who face death without their help.  Yasiri told us: “police were in charge of destroying the majority of medical posts,” so they turned to Facebook as a way of raising money for medical supplies and food. With a number of volunteer medical teams across Nicaragua, Facebook is a key platform that enables them to save lives.

A source of news, an event planner, fundraiser and medical outreach platform – Facebook has become more than a social media platform in Nicaragua. With 79% of the Nicaraguan population owning with a Facebook account, it’s no wonder that Ortega wants to regulate and censor social media. The future of Nicaragua is uncertain, but the role of Facebook in the civil unrest has been key in aiding anti-government protesters to fight for their freedom of speech.

Human Rights
Ailish Craig

Ailish Craig is a recent Geography and Economics student from the University of Southampton, where she enjoyed the conflict in interests between the two subjects. Ailish has spent time volunteering in Nicaragua, on a natural resource management and sustainability project. She has a keen interest in how developing countries will be effected by climate change and how impacts can be minimised, as well as women’s rights.
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