Unfreedom Monitor Report: Hungary

Image courtesy Ameya Nagarajan

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This extract is of the executive summary of the report on Hungary, from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. Read the full report here.

Digital authoritarianism in Hungary is on the rise, motivated by the Hungarian government’s attempts to silence and intimidate critical voices, including independent media workers, civil society organisations, and grassroots movements. Digital technologies are one set of tools used by the government to advance its political strategy: divide and polarise society, generate fear around economic and national security, and make voters believe that the ruling party Fidesz’s narrative is the single source of truth. Their motivation is fueled by the Hungarian government’s identity politics and nation-building tactics.

The report outlines how Hungarian society’s main characteristics can be explained by the country’s economic, social and political history and how the ruling party is able to exploit these characteristics for its own political goals. Since Fidesz came into power, civil society, opposition actors, independent press, and the European Union have regularly documented and raised awareness around how the government has been undermining democracy in the country. Its measures included attacks on civil society and the weakening of the independence of the judiciary. Yet, the Fidesz-led government managed to stay in power for more than a decade.

The use of digital technologies has not been the most dominant tool applied by the Fidesz-led government to advance authoritarian trends; the scale of it has increased in recent years. Incidents that illustrate how digital authoritarianism works in Hungary can be grouped into three categories: gaining control over critical digital infrastructure, silencing and intimidation of dissenting voices, and the use of law to undermine people’s rights. The report demonstrates how these different methods manifest in real-life cases and harm individual and collective human rights.

The Hungarian government’s main method of advancing digital authoritarianism has been through legislative procedures. The government has had a two-thirds parliamentary majority for more than a decade, allowing it to change the constitution and adopt laws without meaningful public oversight and consultation. It has adopted regulations to criminalise fake news spread through social media, its homophobic law has the potential to censor content online, and it also attempted to regulate Facebook because of its fear of being censored and banned during its election campaign like Donald Trump was.

The use of commercial surveillance spyware, like the Pegasus software, was a new addition to the country’s digital authoritarianism practices. It was possible due to the lack of strong protections in the country’s surveillance law and the lack of independence of the country’s data protection authority. The secret services have unlimited data collection powers in Hungary, there are no strict conditions for surveillance, and there is no independent body overseeing surveillance. The Pegasus scandal revealed how this unlimited power is being used by the government.

Read the full report here.

The Unfreedom Monitor

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism.

Download a PDF of the Hungary report.

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