Hungarian government plans to regulate big tech to stop 'ban' on rightwing views

Hungarian government plans to regulate big tech to stop 'ban' on rightwing views
Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Fidesz oligarchs such as Lorinc Meszaros dominate the Hungarian media scene.
By bne IntelliNews January 28, 2021

Hungary’s justice ministry is preparing draft legislation to regulate the operation of social media giants in Hungary, Justice Minister Judit Varga announced on her Facebook account on January 27. The bill will be submitted to parliament in the spring.

The aim is to create a "legal, transparent and controllable operation", she said, adding that the regulation binding all other economic players should apply to tech giants too.

She expressed concern that conservative voices are reportedly facing shadow bans - the act of having your content's reach restricted for political purposes - which is against democratic norms in her view.

Varga accused Facebook of limiting "the visibility of Christian, conservative, rightwing opinions."

A representative for Facebook told local media that the company had not interfered with Varga’s account.

Other Hungarian officials have interpreted the recent ban of Donald Trump’s accounts as proof that tech companies are silencing conservative views on their platforms.

Analysts point out that the government is worried that social media firms will filter messages not conforming to their terms that are deemed racist, or xenophobic, or simply fake news spread by Orban-loyal media.

Regulating the sector has been at the forefront of the government ahead of the crucial 2022 elections. Polls show a united opposition neck and neck with the ruling party.

Opposition parties have used social media to reach potential voters amid a lack of access in mainstream media other than online sources. 

Social media present important platforms to reach out to undecided voters as the Orban government has consolidated its grip on media. State media has also become a mouthpiece of the government.  

A 2018 report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that national elections that year “were characterised by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources” and media bias.

The ruling party has tapped the potential of social media during the last election. Media outlets loyal to Orban used the internet to spread fake videos about migrants and opposition.

In a by-election, the candidate of the ruling party spent more on social media than the entire budget allowed for her campaign. The stake of the election in a northern Hungarian district was whether Fidesz could hold on to its two-thirds majority, which it did, although by a very small margin.