Hundub first appeared like some strange right-wing St. Nicholas Day gift on December 6. Its goal: provide an alternative to Facebook that would be “free of extreme left-wing political censorship.” But as governments take on big tech dominance, Hundub also symbolizes the growing threat of a balkanized social media space, or “splinternet.”
The declared goal of Hundub’s founder Csaba Pál is to create an open space for all Hungarians. This includes Hungarian-speakers from so-called Greater Hungary, the territories in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Croatia that were lost after World War I and are an obsession for the country’s far-right.
“No one will be blocked or deleted because of their political views,” said Pál. “We will not seek to create trends or influence anyone in any way.”
A central feature of Hundub is that there are no “protected groups.” Anyone can criticize the government or the opposition, say anything about COVID-19, or any minority or majority group.
“We understand that Facebook wants to dominate everything, but we believe in free competition. Our message to the critics is the following: Neither [Prime Minister] Orbán nor Soros is behind us,” commented the developers of the project.
Fidesz-friendly Facebook alternative
Yet it pretty clearly appeals to the more pro-government, right-wing part of society. Launched more than a month before its Polish right-wing counterpart Albicla, Hundub received less attention from the press and citizens but found governmental support.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was one of the first politicians to sign up on the platform. Magyar Nemzet, a government-friendly newspaper, praised it as a genuinely Hungarian and censorship-free alternative to Facebook (comparing to the left-wing network).
More from the Fix: Albicla: the new right-wing ‘Facebook alternative’ from Poland
Hungarian ministers have had a troubled relationship with Facebook. Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga recently accused Facebook of limiting her page’s visibility. After that, Facebook denied any manipulations with Varga’s page.
László Köver, a Hungarian parliament speaker, also warned of what he called “considerable forces” in Brussels and said the United States had worked to “manipulate the election result.”
Critics have chided Hundub for its incoherent technologies and design, as well as its strong resemblance to Facebook and the late Hungarian social platform iWiW, which was shuttered in 2014.
“Hundub’s problem isn’t that it’s Hungarian,” said Csaba Balogh, a Hungarian tech journalist. “The issue is that it insults the notion of ‘Hungarian product’ with its amateurism and simplicity.”
Hundub has also encountered more than a few safety problems. At the end of December it suffered a major cyberattack targeting its security.
Murky political plans
Local social networks are gaining popularity among right-wing regimes accused of cronyism, corruption or illiberal views.
What is less clear is how they will be financed. While Pál claims to stake the future of Hundub on crowdfunding, the actual financial model behind his company remains unclear. Hundub Kft included the founder Csaba Pál and Szabolcs Kollár. Murmurati Limited, an offshore company registered in Belize in July this year, was an early owner of the platform. There is little publicly available information about the company.
But in a Facebook post, Hundub announced that due to “continuous press attacks and conspiracy theories” it would no longer have a stake. Now, Csaba Pál is the only Hundub owner, according to the statement. While leaving the company, Szabolcs Kollár sold his share worth HUF 1 million to Csaba Pál for only HUF 10,000.
Ákos Hadházy, an independent deputy, warned of more nefarious potential plans. Writing on his Facebook page he predicted the Orbán government might try to ban Facebook in the future and replace it with Hundub. He also claimed that “the dirty money of the Orbán clan” feeds Hundub.
While the plans to shut down the US tech giant seem speculative, experts warn that social media will most likely be leveraged in upcoming elections in 2022. Indeed, Hadházy warned that Hundub could be used both for mobilization and data collection for Orbán’s Fidesz.
More from The Fix: RFE/RL Reopens in Hungary Amid Press Freedom Decline