Hungary has launched a so-called ‘digital freedom’ fight against US tech giants like Facebook and Twitter who it accuses of censorship and suspects could intervene in next year’s parliamentary election.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who will seek reelection, was a staunch supporter of former US president Donald Trump whose social media accounts were shut after the Capitol invasion in Washington January 6.
But Orban now fears he could be banned from social media as well, which could affect his chances in the upcoming elections.
‘We all have to be prepared for such a situation,’ Gabor Kubatov, a vice-chairman of Orban’s ruling party Fidesz, said referring to the Trump account bans.
The news comes as Youtube today made the decision to ban Trump indefinitely from the social media platform – adding to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others who have banned the former President.
On Tuesday, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said the government ‘will propose a law to the Parliament this spring’ aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech.
‘They could (arbitrarily) switch off bakers, hairdressers, pensioners, teachers, small businesses and state leaders as well,’ she said after a meeting of her ministry’s ‘Digital Freedom Committee’.
The combative Varga, 40, previously accused tech giants of ‘systematic abuses’ including ‘shadow bans’ that allegedly restrict accounts for political purposes.
‘To reduce their reach, Facebook also limits the visibility of Christian, conservative, right-wing opinions,’ she said in a message on her own Facebook page last week, adding that firms could be sanctioned for ‘unfair commercial practices’.
That post embedded tweets by the founder of Project Veritas, an activist group that claims to have infiltrated tech firms to back up charges of anti-conservative bias.
Varga’s ministry said that it ‘has been analysing the issue for almost a year now’ with ‘numerous notifications reaching the ministry proving that the posts of certain users were limited without any notification or explanation’.
With Fidesz neck-and-neck in polls against an opposition alliance ahead of the election scheduled in April 2022, Trump’s account bans have spooked the party, says Agoston Mraz, an analyst with the Nezopont think-tank.
‘There is a fear in Fidesz that without regulation something could happen in the run-up to the election, that if Facebook could ban Trump then why not Orban,’ Mraz said.
And while the government tightly controls public media, and Orban allies run large swathes of the private media sector, social media remains largely untamed territory.
‘Orban long ago realised how important media regulation is in politics, now it’s social media’s turn,’ said Mraz.
The Hungarian government is the latest to call for US internet giants to face more regulation.
Social media operators argued that Trump could have used his accounts to foment more unrest, but critics included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who termed the bans ‘problematic’.
The EU has also proposed curbs for social media companies but new laws could take years to take effect, prompting Hungary and close ally Poland, both led by right-wing governments, to act sooner.
Earlier this month Warsaw drafted legislation to levy stiff fines on tech giants and limit their power to delete content or ban users, with sites only being allowed to do so if posts break Polish law.
The proposals provide for the creation of a ‘freedom of speech council’ tasked with reviewing complaints by social media users whose accounts have been blocked or had content removed.
Facebook is Hungary’s most popular site with user numbers exceeding 5.4 million in 2020, out of a population of 9.8 million.
The platform’s three most active politicians were Orban, Varga, and Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, according to data from monitoring tool CrowdTangle analysed by the Telex news-site.
Orban, who has more than one million Facebook followers, depends on the platform to broadcast policy announcements and campaign videos, leading observers to doubt that severe Polish-style restrictions will be imposed.
‘That would be like shooting yourself in the foot, and is also difficult in legal terms,’ remarked Patrik Szicherle, an analyst at the Budapest-based Political Capital think-tank.
Fidesz’s spending on Facebook advertising also far exceeds that of opposition parties according to the site’s data.
Social media ‘has taken over the leading role (from television) in political campaigns,’ Fidesz’s Kubatov told the Inforadio station.
According to Szicherle, Budapest will mull legal options from ‘letting those banned from social media to turn to legal channels, to something with little practical effect but which still shows that the government is fighting against liberal tech giants’.
‘This war-like rhetoric, similar to the US alt-right’s, fits with narratives often propagated by the government, that liberal conspiracies suppress conservative policies,’ he said.
Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank and the Professional Bank of Florida – which gave Trump an $11million loan in 2018 to buy his sister’s home in Palm Beach.
The loan has a 4.5 percent interest rate and expires in 2048. He also has between $5million and $25million with them in a revocable trust.
Deutsche Bank was the first to cut ties after years of controversial dealings. It was Deutsche Bank that continued giving Trump loans in the 1980s and 1990s as others cut him off.
Signature Bank in New York followed suit.
Citigroup has also paused all political donations until March.
‘We want you to be assured that we will not support candidates who do not respect the rule of law,’ Candi Wolff, the bank’s head of government affairs, wrote in an internal memo.
Visa, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Bank of America and Wells Fargo have all suspended donations through their PACS.
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been censoring Trump throughout his presidency whenever they say he breaches their rules.
In the past, they have merely flagged his tweets or posts as fake or accused him of spreading misinformation.
After the riot last week, they blocked his accounts.
Facebook says it stands by the decision not to let him use either his Facebook page or Instagram page indefinitely.
Twitter – which Trump used to communicate with his followers – says it has permanently banned him.
YouTube has also now suspended his account for a week.
Parler, the website where many of his supporters openly discussed their plot to storm the Capitol, was scrubbed from Amazon Web Services which in essence, banished it from the internet.
Parler sued Amazon for anti-trust violations. Amazon hit back, accusing the website of inciting violent behavior.
Businesses that have suspended political contributions in response to the riot include;
The New York State Bar Association is also investigating whether to strip Rudy Giuliani of his ability to practice the law after he appeared at the rally which preceded the riot last Wednesday.
The PGA has canceled plans to host its 2022 tournament at Trump’s Bedminster New Jersey club.
‘It’s become clear that conducting the PGA championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand,’ PGA President Jim Richerson said.
The Trump Organization raged against the move, calling it a ‘disappointing decision’.
‘This is a breach of a binding contract and they have no right to terminate the agreement,’ the organization said in a statement.
The British Open golf championship is no longer being held at Trump Turnberry in Scotland.
Bryson DeChambeau also got rid of the Trump logo that was on his bag.
New York City
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that the city of New York would no longer do business with Trump or the Trump Organization.
He is ending the city’s 30-year-old contracts with the Trump Organization to manage the Wollman and Laserk skating rinks in Central Park, and the Central Park carousel.
He is also ending the city’s contract with the organization for Trump’s golf course in the Bronx, Trump Links Ferry Point.
Eric Trump retaliated, saying de Blasio has no right to end the contracts and that the city will owe them $30million if he does.