As it has grown, Facebook has become an increasingly unavoidable platform in politics and political campaigns. Index interviewed Márton Bene, a senior researcher at the Social Science Research Center of the Political Science Institute, about the influence of the social media platform over Hungarian voters.
According to Márton Bene, the social media giant is increasingly more important in Hungarian political communication. Facebook already a played an outsized role in the previous election campaign in 2018, but it is even more important four years later.
Facebook has been a central campaign tool of the opposition for years, but not so much for the ruling party. It had one or two prominent pages like Viktor Orbán’s or Fidesz’s, but the focus had been on other types of campaign tools. Since the 2019 municipal elections, however, Fidesz has conspiculously turned to Facebook, making it one of the most important tools for their political campaigns
Facebook can be more effective than other means in reaching out to those who try to avoid political messaging, while the ability to create a direct connection with voters helps with mobilizing them, he said.
Index also asked if Facebook “likes” could be translated into actual votes, to which the researcher stated:
Interactions have a limited effect, but could make a difference to the election outcome. Based on my research, sharing posts matters the most, and can create extra votes for candidates running in individual districts
Márton Bene explained that if there is a strong centralized message, Facebook messaging can complement visual material that goes out into physical public spaces. Yet successful communication on Facebook requires a different kind of strategy, which politicians have realized through a noticeable shift towards more direct content.
The researcher said that Viktor Orbán embodies one example of this: the Prime Minister has long used Facebook as a traditional media channel, but in recent years his Facebook communication has become much more diverse, direct, and social media-centric.
Márton Bene said that social media can strengthen the relationship between the follower and the politician being followed, even if their posts do not go viral. Instagram is primarily used for more personal communication, such as Ferenc Gyurcsány’s cooking or Péter Szijjártó’s athletic pictures.
Social media will continue to be an important part of political communication, but it may also reach a saturation point in terms of its influence, according to Márton Bene.
Facebook dominates in Hungary, but more diverse social media platforms are used in international campaigns. Twitter is especially important in this regard, and politics is becoming more and more common on Instagram and TikTok as well.
The researcher also drew attention to the fact that algorithmic changes on Facebook could affect the 2022 election campaign, particularly if its algorithms are reconfigured so that users encounter less political content on the site.