Susceptibility vs. immunity – Disinformation and conspiracy theories in Hungary
We believe it when we see it – if we are told what to see. The susceptibility to disinformation narratives and conspiracy theories that are so common in public discourse is markedly different between the pro-government and opposition voters. But in the absence of guidance from the parties, many people do not seem to dare to rely on their own judgement. Be that as it may, a significant proportion of Hungarians are susceptible to disinformation about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Our research used both quantitative and qualitative methods: a questionnaire survey was followed by two focus group discussions. The former was conducted by Inspira Research between 24 March and 11 April 2023, with a sample of 1000 people, representative of gender, age, education and type of settlement, interviewed face-to-face. The questionnaire also included a block of questions from the 21 Research Centres and the Republican Institute; some of these (those concerning values and ideological self-assessment) were used as background variables for the analysis.
Main findings of our research
- A significant proportion of people are susceptible to disinformation about the war, with 27% believing the most common disinformation narratives about Ukraine's role and responsibility and 22% about the United States. Compared to them, fewer people (17% and 19%, respectively) are immune to these disinformation narratives.
- Online news consumption on public and political issues shows only limited media bubbles. Only 8% of respondents to our poll regularly read a government-controlled news site with little or no visits to independent sites. There are slightly bigger bubbles in TV news viewing: 11% watch mostly government-controlled TV news, while 13% watch independent channels.
- Immunity to disinformation is not independent of party affiliation and news viewing habits. The proportion of those on the pro-government side who are immune is below average, while the proportion of opposition voters or those who get their information from independent news is above average (but far from entirely immune).
- We believe it when we see it - if we are told what to see. The susceptibility to disinformation narratives and conspiracy theories, which are not related to the war but are highly politicized and frequently appear in public discourse, is markedly different between the pro-government and opposition voter camps, in line with their party-political orientation. However, when confronted with less sensationalized fabricated news, readers react more hesitantly and are less polarized. No fault line could be identified, for example, with the news that Queen Elizabeth II would have knighted Donald Trump before her death. It was as if, in the absence of guidance from the media and political parties, many people did not dare to use their own judgement.
- It is no exaggeration to say that we live in a post-fact world. The lack of certainty and doubt about facts and reality is indicated by the fact that the majority of respondents (59%) agreed to some extent with the statement that objective reality does not really exist, there are just different opinions. There is no significant difference in opinion between government and opposition voters on this issue. So there is no such political polarisation that strongly determines many other public issues. At the same time, the doubt about the existence of objective reality goes hand in hand with a susceptibility to disinformation about the war on the US and Ukraine, and a belief in the existence of a background power that influences political decisions.
Our research report is available here (in Hungarian).
Infographics presenting the results of the research
Susceptibility vs. Immunity - War-related disinformation narratives about Ukraine's role and responsibility.
Susceptibility vs. Immunity - War-related disinformation narratives about the role and responsibility of the U.S.
Susceptibility vs. Immunity - Disinformation narratives unrelated to the war.
The project is supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is not responsible for the content of this project, or for any use that may be made of it. The views expressed herein are those of the author alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.