Accessibility links

Breaking News

Meet The 'Fidesz-Fluencers,' The Internet Personalities Trying To Court Hungary's Young Voters

An 18-year-old man casts his vote during European elections in Kozarmisleny, Hungary, in May 2019.
An 18-year-old man casts his vote during European elections in Kozarmisleny, Hungary, in May 2019.

The sun rising above the clouds. Aerial views of a foreign land. Flags billowing in the wind, as black Mercedes speed through deserted streets.

With a pumping, overly dramatic soundtrack, some might think this is a trailer for a blockbuster action movie -- and a quite decent one at that. In fact it is a video posted by Peter Szijjarto, Hungary's minister of foreign affairs and trade, on Facebook, documenting his diplomatic visit to Tallinn, Estonia.

"I don't want to exaggerate, but it's like watching a Tom Cruise movie. Wow, it's good to be Hungarian! There is no other country that has such a cool minister," a Facebook user commented (possibly ironically) on another of Szijjarto's action shorts, this one portraying his day in Moscow, which started out with an early-morning run in the snow.

With unprecedented levels of spending from the ruling Fidesz party, Szijjarto is one of many politicians who is trying to get the attention of young Hungarians ahead of crucial elections on April 3 that might present the government and Prime Viktor Orban with their biggest challenge in nearly 12 years of rule.

Across all age groups, Facebook is the most popular social-media platform in Hungary. In February, there were 7.3 million Hungarian Facebook users from a total population of nearly 10 million people. Around 40 percent of them were between 18 and 35 years old. And it is this age group that is the most reluctant to vote for Fidesz: in 2018, only 37 percent of Hungarians between 18 and 30 voted for the right-wing party, which still managed to hold on to two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

Alexandra Szentkiralyi is another politician who realizes the importance of capturing the youth vote. A spokeswoman for the Hungarian government, Szentkiralyi regularly posts videos on Facebook and TikTok, with one of her most famous showing her putting Eros Pista (a famous, spicy Hungarian paprika-cream) into a cappuccino instead of soup. "POV: Leftists," the caption text reads. The soup was labelled with "Standing proud in front of the press, like Viktor Orban," and the coffee, "Avoiding the real question." The punchline, according to Szentkiralyi, is that the left chose the latter.

Katalin Novak, the country's president-elect and a close ally of Orban, is another active poster, often sharing on Facebook wholesome photos of her husband and children with the username @csaladesifjusag (family and youth). While regularly supporting Fidesz's party line on "traditional" families, one of Novak's most controversial posts shows her cleaning a window with what appears to be a wet wipe.

"[Women shouldn't] believe that we women have to constantly compete with men. Don't believe that at every moment of our lives we should compare ourselves to each other and that we have to be in the same position, with the same salary," she said in a video posted on the conservative youth site Axioma's Facebook page.

Katalin Novak (right) poses for a selfie with parliament deputyKatalin Csobor in parliament in Budapest on March 10, prior to a secret vote on the presidential position.
Katalin Novak (right) poses for a selfie with parliament deputyKatalin Csobor in parliament in Budapest on March 10, prior to a secret vote on the presidential position.

Racking up thousands of views, the posts by politicians are just part of a colossal Fidesz campaign, which is pumping cash into social-media ads. According to AdLibrary, an open database of spending on Facebook, since April 2019 the Fidesz-led government has spent over 500 million forints (around $1.5 million). The party itself has spent a further 400 million forints since April 2019, when AdLibrary began monitoring.

The ad spending is matched by the growing revenues of the "Fidesz-fluencers," mostly young people posting content supportive of Orban and the government and memes railing on the "liberal leftists."

People like Daniel Bohar, a successful Fidesz-influencer who has received over 30 million forints in advertising revenue from the government-friendly Megafon PR agency. A proud father and husband, he posts pictures of his family and selfies with politicians. He also posts memes, like the one showing European Parliament member Katalin Cseh and a former president of the centrist Momentum Movement, Andras Fekete-Gyor, smiling at the Budapest Pride event.

"With 5 million forints in your pocket, you would laugh too," the caption reads, referring to allegations aired in pro-government media that Cseh stole EU funds. Cseh has denied the allegations and won a lawsuit against the Origo news website, which had published the accusations.

"Your face, when you finally agree on how much the commission is going to be when you sell the parliament," reads another meme, this one posted by 30-year-old Daniel Deak, one of Fidesz's best-paid influencers and a political scientist at the pro-government 21st Century Institute.

It shows opposition candidate Peter Marki-Zay smiling with entrepreneur, economist, and former interim Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and refers to the allegations made by Fidesz and pro-government media about leftist politicians and corrupt property sales. Six opposition parties have rallied behind Marki-Zay, a conservative mayor who is seen as friendlier to the EU than Orban and the incumbent's biggest challenger in years.

Much of the Fidesz campaign is coordinated by Megafon, the PR company specializing in social media that pays the likes of influencer Bohar. Offering courses as well as funding for Facebook ads, Megafon says it's independent of political parties and influence.

The company's founder, however, is Istvan Kovacs, the strategic director of the Fidesz-friendly Center for Fundamental Rights, who started his political career in Fidesz's youth organization and was nominated for the European Parliament by Fidesz in 2019. Despite their claims of political independence, in an introductory video on the company's website, Kovacs says, "We aim to find and amplify nationalist voices on the Internet."

Of the 20 Facebook pages with the biggest ad spending in Hungary, Megafon is behind six of them, according to AdLibrary. The pages include those run by Bohar, the producer of a government-funded feature film Most Vagy Soha! (Now Or Never!), YouTuber Philip Rakay, and TV presenter Stefi Der, who regularly annotates Marki-Zay's speeches. "He has no idea what damage he could do if he would be in a position to govern," she says in one video accusing the opposition candidate of wanting to send Hungarian men to fight in Ukraine.

None of the influencers working for Fidesz responded to RFE/RL's requests for interviews.

Over their 12 years in power, Orban and Fidesz have taken control of nearly all of the country's print and broadcast media, securing the loyalty of many older Hungarians. Social media, often owned by global corporations, has been harder to rein in, but could potentially be more lucrative, with 63 percent of Hungarian adults getting their news from Facebook.

That has worried many in Hungary's opposition, who say that Orban and the government are attempting to do with social media what they did with traditional media -- gaining an unfair advantage with their wealth, buyouts, and large advertising budgets.

"It is time to say that Facebook and Google are responsible for what happens on their platforms during election campaigns. Otherwise, these platforms will become a slot machine for election fraud," tweeted Anna Donath, the president of the centrist opposition Momentum Movement and a member of the European Parliament, on January 19.

Anna Donath, then the deputy chairwoman of the opposition Momentum Movement, holds up a smoke grenade during an anti-government protest in downtown Budapest in December 2018.
Anna Donath, then the deputy chairwoman of the opposition Momentum Movement, holds up a smoke grenade during an anti-government protest in downtown Budapest in December 2018.

Preparing for a debate on the Digital Services Act, a draft law that could regulate technology giants Meta (Facebook's parent company) and Google across the EU, Donath highlighted the need for close monitoring in a country's election period. "The government's smear campaign is now so aggressive that a parent can't even launch a cartoon for their child on YouTube without government propaganda blaring across the room," she said in the Twitter thread.

"If the EU does not act vigorously enough, we will not be able to create regulations that can deal with these abuses," Donath told RFE/RL in an interview, referring to Fidesz's large advertising budget. "And the issue needs to be regulated at the European level because the platforms clearly go beyond the confines of nation-states, as individual governments can abuse their power on social-media platforms."

Donath acknowledges that every government needs to inform its citizens on any given platform, including social media. "[But] we cannot allow a greater social-media presence for those who can pay the most for advertising," she said. "We can't allow those who lie but have endless funds to dominate digital publicity."

With Hungary's parliamentary elections just a few days away, the race is still very close, according to some estimates, with Fidesz only a few percentage points ahead of the joint opposition. However, other pollsters say the six-party alliance has very little chance of beating Orban.

The billion-forint question is this: Will the ruling party's attempts to woo young Hungarian voters work?

Or, put more bluntly, will these repetitive messages, shared across social media, have an impact on people, asks Szilvia Nemet, a doctoral candidate at the media faculty of Budapest's Eotvos Lorand University.

In her research, Nemet has looked at the work of pro-government players on social media, including their use of memes. "Facebook can be a hotbed of abuse, especially in a fierce campaign situation where you can burn almost endless money, not to mention coordinated campaigns that try to cover up the fact that they are sponsored...such as humor and memes," she said.

"Megafon tries to be funny, but they never for a minute lose sight of their aims, which are character assassinations and incitement to hate," Nemet said.

"So instead of a subtle system of referrals embedded in pop or Internet culture, they choose to troll, which may or may not be attractive for young people. Thus, it's possible that even though they are shooting for a young age group, they [actually] find greater resonance among Boomers."

  • 16x9 Image

    Lili Rutai

    Lili Rutai is a freelance journalist based in London and Budapest. She has previously reported for Vice, The Calvert Journal, and about social issues, culture, and politics in Hungary. 

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.