Hungary tries and fails to institute the world’s first internet tax, and Facebook was it’s downfall.
Recently in Hungary, tens of thousands of people gathered in Budapest to protest the institution of a new Internet tax. This law, the first of its kind, would charge users the equivalent of about 0.60c USD for every gigabyte used. Naturally, Internet users were outraged and a social media protest was formed. Facebook was the main vehicle for organizing this protest, which shows that modern social technology drove an important goal to fruition.
Though the tax was not initially removed, it was reduced to a monthly rate and then eventually abandoned after the incredible backlash continued. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban stated that he was only trying to close to deficit, but many saw this tax as an attack on free speech. Many said Orban was trying to put a “digital iron curtain” around Hungary and saw the tax as direct obstruction to freedom of speech. One interesting impact this protest will have, is that it demonstrates the dedicated and strong reaction of the public against such measures. If successful, this law could have sparked other countries to tap the digital well for funds.
What I draw from this, is that desire to use social media, especially Facebook, and the amount of time that individuals spend on the internet as a result was a direct influence on the movement to protest. Perhaps five to ten years ago when the internet was not as active in households and social media was not as followed, this tax could have succeed because people were not yet attached. The advent of social media was a direct catalyst for the organized and effective actions taken.
Hungary has not been without its issues over the years. Recently the US cancelled several visas for government officials over corruption charges, and the Hungarian legislature has already passed laws that give the national government control over many news outlets including many radio stations. This country has many deep seeded political and economic issues it needs to sort through before any problem is truly fixed. The repeal of one tax is good news, showing that the people have at least the power to scare the prime minister into backing off, but it has to be mentioned that this struggle is relatively bourgeois. Many protestors are middle class or higher, who are able to afford new technologies any ways. Many political analysts believe that Hungarians need to be more aware of class issues and the dissolving of the social services, in order to unite for real change.
I was very impressed by these efforts over Facebook. Social media helped bring real documented change for now, but I feel Hungary could certainly attempt to control the internet through other means.
(Photo curtesy of miniyo73. Profile at https://www.flickr.com/photos/miniyo73/)