Online resistance against Nicaragua‘s ‘Peace Law’

Collage with President Daniel Ortega and the repression of anti-government protests in 2018, by ProBox. Used with permission.

This article was published on ProBox on April 28, 2024. An edited version is republished in Global Voices under a media partnership agreement.

In early April 2024, the Ortega–Murillo government enacted a controversial “Peace Law,” which the Nicaraguan civil society actively challenged by contesting the government's narrative and defending the memory of the April 2018 protests on social media.

The Nicaraguan Assembly decreed April as the “month of Peace” because April is when dissidents found a time every year to commemorate the large anti-governmental protests in 2018 as well as criticize the regime online despite censorship. For many, this law promotes the narrative of forgetting the massacre of almost 350 Nicaraguans during the 2018 protests and the government's repression these past these six years.

In April 2018, Nicaragua witnessed widespread protests against President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, triggered by proposed social security reforms. The government responded with a harsh crackdown, leading to deaths, injuries, and arrests. Criticism persists over ongoing repression of political opposition and independent media, raising concerns about human rights abuses and democratic erosion.

What does the law say?

According to what was approved by the Nicaraguan National Assembly (made up of approximately 90 percent of pro-government deputies), the law aims to “deepen the values linked to peace and family unity throughout the country.”

The National Assembly approved the Law that declares April as Peace Month, consecrating it as patrimony of the Nicaraguan people. #08April #ElCaite

This new legal tool is aligned with the narrative of Vice President Rosario Murillo in state-owned media, in which she announces actions to be carried out in April and lashes out against religious leaders who do not support the government.

Commemorations and protests come together online

Despite the regime's efforts to impose its own version of events, civil society has used digital platforms to commemorate the 2018 protests and keep the memory of the victims alive.

Through hashtags such as #AbrilNoSeOlvida (#WeWontForgetApril) and #SOSNicaragua, they reject the “Peace Law” and show their determination to continue fighting for justice and democracy.

ProBox analyzed the conversation on social media around the commemoration of the protests of April 18, 2018. The search for keywords allowed us to study the civic conversation about April, such as “#SOSNicaragua,” “abril no se olvida” (April is not forgotten), “asesinados protesta nicaragua” (assassinated protest nicaragua), “estallido social nicaragua” (social outburst nicaragua), and “protestas 18 abril 2018” (April 18 2018 protests).

From March 18 to April 21, 2024, we recorded 1,189 mentions of April 2018, with a peak on April 19 with 143 mentions. Most of this conversation took place on Facebook, with 77.29 percent of the mentions recorded, followed by Instagram with 20.86 percent, and TikTok with 1.85 percent.

This graph shows the number of mentions of civil society's keywords on social networks such as “#SOSNicaragua,” “abril no se olvida” (April is not forgotten), “asesinados protesta nicaragua” (assassinated protest nicaragua), “estallido social nicaragua” (social outburst nicaragua), and “protestas 18 abril 2018” (April 18 2018 protests). Image by ProBox. Used with permission.

Top words included #SOSNicaragua (135 mentions), political prisoners (61 mentions), protests April (59 mentions), #AprilNoSeOlvida (59 mentions), and #Nicaragua #AprilVive (56 mentions). The Nicaraguan University Alliance is among the most active accounts on Facebook, as they topped the list with 307 mentions and 17,752,582 impressions.

The regime tries to impose ‘peace’ on social media

On the other hand, we researched the state-led conversation using keywords such as: “ley abril mes paz” (law April peace month), “abril mes de la paz Nicaragua” (April peace month Nicaragua), “mes de paz Nicaragua” (peace month Nicaragua), “Nicaragua cultura paz” (Nicaragua peace culture), “mes de paz Daniel Ortega” (peace month Daniel Ortega), “Daniel Ortega cultura paz” (Daniel Ortega peace culture), “#UnidosEnVictorias” (#UnitedinVictory), and “#NicaraguaTriunfa” (#NicaraguaWins).

There were 1,075 mentions during the same timeframe, with a peak on April 18 with 173 mentions, a meaningful day as it is the anniversary of when the protests started.

Most of the pro-government conversation was concentrated on Facebook, with 66.33 percent, followed by X (formerly Twitter) with 31.63 percent.

This graph shows the number of mentions of words in social networks such as “ley abril mes paz,” “abril mes de la paz Nicaragua,” “mes de paz Nicaragua,” “Nicaragua cultura paz,” “mes de paz Daniel Ortega,” “Daniel Ortega cultura paz,” “#UnidosEnVictorias,” and “#NicaraguaTriunfa” from March 18, 2024 to April 21, 2024. Image by ProBox. Used with permission.

Other keywords that were highlighted in this conversation included Rosario Murillo (87 mentions), #4519LaPatriaLaRevolución (82 mentions), and Daniel Ortega (69 mentions). El 19 Digital, one of the main propaganda media platforms of the regime since 2008, produced the most mentions on X with 25 mentions and generated 2,713,225 impressions.

El 19 Digital is a digital media outlet in Nicaragua that has stood out for disseminating the official narrative of the regime and promoting its policies and achievements. The name of this media outlet refers to the date of the Sandinista Revolution on July 19, 1979, when the dictatorship of the Somoza family was overthrown. El 19 Digital has been criticized for its pro-government bias and its role in official propaganda.

New tools against censorship: civil society takes the lead on TikTok

On TikTok, we were able to identify 22 videos related to both narratives. However, despite the fact that the regime was active on social media, civil society emerged as the driving force of the citizen narrative, expressing its discontent towards the regime and strongly evoking the 2018 protests. 

Civil society produced 17 videos, which accumulated more than 197,465 reproductions. These were loaded with complaints, commemorations of the 2018 protests, and satire, thus reflecting the authentic and critical voice of the citizenry, granting undeniable relevance to their participation in this media space.

This graph shows the percentages of different types of content creators on TikTok discussing the topic of “April”: “Sociedad civil” (Civil society), “Régimen (Regime), “Cuentas de entretenimiento” (entertainment accounts), “Cuentas informativas” (informative accounts), and “redes anónimas“ (anonymous networks). Image by ProBox. Used with permission.

The presence of Nicaraguans on social media has proven to be a beacon of resistance to the government's attempts to divert attention from existing problems. Instead of succumbing to the official narrative, digital platforms have been used as a space for truth and to call for justice.

The resistance of Nicaragua's civil society on social media represents a powerful reminder of the importance of freedom of expression and the struggle for justice in a context of increasing authoritarianism. Their voice continues to be a vital force in the quest for a more just and democratic Nicaragua. Their perseverance and creativity on social media demonstrate that, even in the face of repression, hope and resistance persist, fueling the flame of freedom.

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