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How a California Tech Company Might Influence Hungary’s Elections

Zalán Trajbár 2021.04.27.

On April 8th, many Hungarian politicians noticed that their reach on Facebook had drastically dropped. As Facebook communicated later, this was an accident on their part, but doubts remain as to the true nature of the sudden decrease in political content on Hungarian Facebook. The company recently made a commitment to reduce political content on its platform and they are testing this in multiple countries around the world, so these doubts are by no means unfounded.

But why is this important, what effect could Facebook have on Hungarian politics? Quite a lot actually. Hungarians love their politics, and Hungarians love Facebook. For example, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has over 900,000 likes and 1.13 million followers, which means approximately one in 10 Hungarians follows the prime minister, assuming of course that the majority of his followers are actually Hungarians. Many politicians, especially in the opposition, make most of their political statements on the platform. Even with regards to Covid-19 announcements, a lot of Hungarian citizens look for updates from the government on Facebook.

Facebook has become an entrenched platform in Hungarian politics, whether the company likes it or not.

Now that we have established Facebook’s relevance in Hungarian politics, the next step is to look at how exactly Facebook’s plan to decrease political content could affect it.

Any decrease in political content would, without a doubt, be detrimental to all parties in Hungary.

However, there are certain parties that have access to other media sources, and these parties would most likely weather this change much better than other, less established parties. Certain parties in Hungary have entire media empires propping them up, while others need to rely on social media to spread their message. Facebook’s new policy would affect the reach of certain political parties in Hungary; thus, it has the potential to affect the upcoming election.

Facebook Claims Hungarian Politicians' Limited Reach 'Temporary Technical Issue'
Facebook Claims Hungarian Politicians' Limited Reach 'Temporary Technical Issue'

Both Hungary’s pro-government and opposition politicians reported in the past few days that their posts on Facebook mysteriously reached far fewer people than ever before. In response, the social media giant announced that the reduction in views was caused by technical issues. However, since February, Facebook has been experimenting in the U.S. with reducing the […]Continue reading

There are a couple of solutions to this problem, the obvious one being that Facebook stop with this change altogether, but that is unlikely. The second would be to adopt a hybrid approach, where certain countries stay on the old system, while others (with less of their political media tied to Facebook) can switch to the new one. A possible third option would be more transparency on the issue, along with a clear timeline so that media actors will have enough time to prepare for the transition.

Simply decreasing political content overnight is disingenuous and unacceptable.

Facebook is a private company, but it has grown far beyond the simple communications platform it used to be, and the company must accept the responsibilities that go along with it.

Political content makes up 6% of traffic on their website, and Facebook makes loads of money off political advertising. Now that this has become a sensitive topic, Facebook should not be allowed to just take their money and turn off the political media taps. The political content on their platform is directly related to elections all around the world, and if they make sudden changes without transparency, then they will be affecting elections all around the world.

Alongside the amount of wealth, data, and power that Facebook has accumulated over the years, there should also be a degree of social responsibility to the various communities on whose shoulders it built its brand. Decreasing political content without proper consultation and transparency will have various consequences, both predictable and unpredictable, and if the company chooses to more forward without said consultation and transparency, then it should be sanctioned for refusing to accept the moral responsibilities that come with its role as a global media platform.

In the featured photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo by MTI/EPA/Washington Examiner/Pool/Graeme Jennings


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