Fb Claims Hungarian Politicians’ Restricted Attain ‘Non permanent Technical Problem’
Both Hungarian pro-government and opposition politicians have reported in recent days that their posts on Facebook mysteriously reached far fewer people than ever before. In response, the social media giant announced that the decrease in views was caused by technical issues. However, since February Facebook has been experimenting in the US with reducing the amount of political content in users’ news feeds. The new rules could soon reach Hungary as well, sparking a social and political debate about the role of social media in politics with serious consequences.
In response to events on January 6, 2021, when the United States Capitol was stormed by pro-Trump supporters to undo the former president’s defeat, Facebook decided to limit the political content of user feeds as the social Media site played a role in the formation of the uprising.
The new regulations are initially being tested in countries such as the USA, Brazil, Canada and Indonesia. Additionally, the company will no longer make recommendations for civil and political groups to users worldwide.
According to Aastha Gupta, Facebook’s product management director, it is important to highlight that Facebook does not completely remove political content. “Our goal is to preserve people’s ability to find and interact with political content on Facebook while respecting the appetite of every person at the top of their news feed.”
Although the analysis of the social media company showed that political content made up six percent of users, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg argued that, according to user feedback, political content should not dominate the news feed.
In light of the new regulations, several Hungarian politicians have found that their Facebook posts are no longer reaching as many people as they were before. They speculated that Facebook has also reached Hungary to test its political content limits and this could be responsible for the decline.
If this is indeed the case, it is important to know that restricting access will not affect health organizations or official government sites. In contrast, it could influence both opposition and pro-government politicians. This is explained by the fact that the state communicates things of public interest and, in principle, uses its channels, which can be classified as public property, to convey bipartisan political messages.
Opposition reactions to the mysterious borders
Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony responded to the anomaly in a Facebook post claiming:
So far, my average post has reached 150-250,000 Hungarian Facebookers. As of yesterday, that number has dropped to a fraction of a few tens of thousands. “
Karácsony also criticized the social media company for interfering with the fate of countries and elections through such regulations. He encouraged users to manually navigate the pages that appear in their newsfeed in their settings if they want to continue to follow the mayor’s political posts.
András Fekete-Győr, candidate for prime minister and chairman of the liberal opposition party Momentum Movement, had views similar to the Budapest mayor. In a country where other media are limited to the opposition, a presence on Facebook is essential, as it is the last platform on which news can be freely distributed.
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The Orbán government’s state secretary for international communications, Zoltán Kovács, said he couldn’t decide whether it was Facebook’s attempt to silence right-wing voices or just a technical problem. Whatever it was, he believes Facebook’s responsibility to restrict people’s access to information is enormous in the current pandemic situation.
Csaba Dömötör, Parliamentary State Secretary and MP for the ruling Fidesz party, also commented on the presumed regulations, but added that Facebook has not yet reported the reasons for restricting access to posts.
Restricting access is particularly detrimental at the present time when authentic information about the epidemic and vaccinations are more important to Hungary than anything else on online interfaces. “
Justice Minister Judit Varga also stressed the importance of social media for authentic communication about vaccinations and epidemic information. She added that such an impact on political communication would be a new and systematic form of “culture breakup”. She firmly opposed the rules on social media as they would seriously contradict freedom of expression. She also drew an analogy between social media regulations and a socialist cultural policy that banned certain content.
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Facebook did not deliberately restrict the political content
It was recently reported that Facebook’s restrictions in response to politicians’ comments were unintentional and caused by a technical issue. This problem led to the phenomenon that several politicians experienced, namely that their posts no longer reached as many people as before. A Facebook spokesperson answered questions Friday night, saying the bug caused a similar phenomenon in several other countries, but it has already been corrected.
Despite the fact that Hungary is not yet regulated by Facebook’s new guidelines, a wider social and political debate about the presence of social media in politics may begin. On the one hand, the social media platform offers politicians an exceptional place to present guidelines and to get in touch with the public. It also fundamentally contradicts the freedom of expression to regulate the feeds and contributions of the users. Many criticize large technology companies for interfering with the fundamental democratic value of freedom of expression. On the other hand, providing false information on Facebook can seriously disrupt democratic political agreements and lead to political polarization. Regulation of posts can therefore be essential if we are to prevent the spread of fake news and prevent radicals from influencing the public.
On the photo: Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg. Photo by MTI / EPA / Alberto Estévez