Previously, political and public advertisements could be posted on Facebook, essentially unregulated. Today however, increasingly strict rules define political advertising on the platform. Against the background of the elections, Hungarian and US voters show similar, slightly differing political and social trends.
According to the Lounge Group representative study on US and Hungarian voters,
Facebook and Instagram are the leading social media platforms in the USA and Hungary among users over 18.
Nearly nine out of every ten Hungarian are on Facebook: posting, reading, commenting, liking. This is the most popular social media forum in Hungary, just as in America. Given the page’s reach and expansion throughout the past few years, it has become a global force capable of connecting with members across all of society.
However, there are differences between age groups. For example, in Hungary Facebook is the primary platform for users between the ages of 18 and 34. This same younger generation also uses Tiktok and Instagram. In America this age group has similar diversification between social media channels used; the difference between the proportion of users of these platforms is much smaller and many more use Twitter. In Hungary, the older someone is, the more likely they use Facebook exclusively—Instagram comes in at a distant second. In fact, Instagram is used by only 20% of the 35-49 age group. The situation is comparable in America too, except that Instagram and Twitter is used much more in this 35-49 age group; 40% of adults in this group uses Instagram and Twitter, but later generations are far less present on the platforms.
“Though Facebook is not the primary source of news for most age groups, it still deserves special attention for public content. This is not only because of the platform’s popularity, but also because of the demographic and interest-based ad targeting. US Facebook users number 223 million, 387 million in Europe, and among those, 6.35 million in Hungary. Facebook is also the primary platform for two-way communication”—highlighted Krisztina Hidvégi, Media Director at Lounge Group. According to the company group’s research, Hungarians primarily share Hungarian political content here:
Though topics on the public sphere are typically taboo in Hungary, more than a third of respondents still tend to share or comment on such content.
The Facebook political ads story started somewhere in 2008 when Barack Obama’s campaign began. This was the first professionally built up campaign of its nature on Facebook—contributing to the President’s significant win against the then-72-year-old John McCain. Encouraged by Obama’s success, countless political players have since followed suit, launching campaigns on the blue giant’s platform. In 2016, before the Brexit vote, the “Vote Leave” Facebook campaign utilized data analysis to target a broad spectrum of society with personalized ads. The platform also played an important role in the 2016 elections. Consequently however, both the European Union and US authorities launched investigations into the protection of personal data online and election influence.
More than two years later, in May of 2018, Facebook implemented political advertising rules in the USA and certain African and Asian countries. From that point, political players could only advertise in their given country, with advertisements approved by Facebook or Instagram, and by officially displaying their sponsor. These rules quickly took off and now apply to almost 200 countries. Since last March, Facebook advertisements in Hungary dealing with public affairs, social issues, politics or elections must display the sponsor as well as receive an official approval from the social media platform. In fact, these rules are continually changing—and more and more content gets put in this category of restricted advertising. This means that not only does your run of the mill political advertisement have to adhere to these rules, but also government communications advertisements as well. Through this, Facebook intends to further ensure transparent advertising and prevent outside countries from influencing local political issues.
“Lounge Group’s findings also confirmed that, due to the wide range of users, there is an ever growing need to regulate political Facebook ads in recent years. If we look at the Hungarian market, the 2010 Media Services and Mass Communications Act laid out strict rules for political advertising on numerous media platforms. On social media however, you could do almost anything you want—with maximal reach and targeting—without consequence” said Krisztina Hidvégi.
Social media sites paid special attention to political posts during this year’s US presidential election.
For example, Facebook and Instagram displayed a message over every post related to the election saying that based on the official vote count, final results are still not yet available. Facebook utilized the same system if someone attempted to post about victory too early on; though the platform did not delete the posts, it displayed a similar message that the official results are not yet available. Twitter acted similarly, displaying a message on “victory Tweets” that the official results are not yet finalized.
A survey of 2000 people was conducted by Cygnal LLC on behalf of the Lounge Group in the US from September 5-7, 2020. The Századvég Foundation conducted the Hungarian counterpart of the study in early October 2020; the 500-person sample was representative of Hungarian society based on age, gender, and type of settlement residence. The research findings were also reviewed by the largest news agency in the US, the AP. Prestigious US newspapers and portals that publish Lounge Group research include Yahoo Finance and Marketwatch, reaching more than a hundred million readers every month.