"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be."
Lord Kelvin

The impact of Russia’s state-run propaganda apparatus on online media in Hungary – 2010–2017

23 March 2018

In this paper, we investigate the impact of Russia’s state-run propaganda apparatus on online media in Hungary using methods drawn from content analysis and distributive semantics. For the analysis, we downloaded articles published between 2010 and 2017 on nine Hungarian-language online portals (888.hu, hidfo.ru, index.hu, lokal.hu, magyaridok.hu, mindenegyben.com, mno.hu, origo.hu, and pestisracok.hu) and collected them in a database. We analysed 1 million articles and more than 278 million words in total. We used statistical methods to compare content from pro-government news portals (888.hu, lokal.hu, magyaridok.hu, and pestisracok.hu) to that in articles published by hidfo.ru, the Russian propaganda portal par excellence. Based on results from linguistic profiling, articles from hidfo.ru show Russian language features and are translated from a foreign language.

We investigated four issues: (i) the coverage of negative or sensitive issues and events concerning the Russian government or Russian politics; (ii) the use of the words “migrant” or “refugee”; (iii) the interconnections of the themes “migrant” and “terror” and (iv) “migrant” and “violence”. To test our hypothesis, we ran logit regression estimations using different subsamples of articles. Our results demonstrate the impact of the Russian state-run propaganda apparatus on Hungary’s online media, especially on the pro-government online news portals. One unanticipated finding of our research is that mindenegyben.com, which is a very popular site on Facebook, tends to partially follow Russian state propaganda in its articles with regard to Russian topics. Our analysis of articles published from 2010 to 2017 in index.hu and origo.hu shows that after Origo’s editor-in-chief was fired for political reasons, the language of origo.hu changed and the portal started to use terms and language promoted by Russian state propaganda in a somewhat more forceful way. An analysis of articles published by the nine online portals from 2015 to 2017 demonstrates the impact noted above of Russia’s state-run propaganda apparatus on Hungary’s pro-government online media. The results from our statistical analysis show that the pro-government portals publish articles on negative or sensitive issues tied to the Russian government or to Russian politics less frequently than news portals that are independent of the Hungarian government.

In addition, the analysis demonstrates that among the pro-government portals, the discourse on 888.hu and lokal.hu concerning “migrants”, and the interconnection of the themes “migrant” and “terrorist” and “migrant” and “violence” do not differ significantly from the discourse used by hidfo.ru. In addition, other pro-government news portals, such as pestisracok.hu and magyaridok.hu, are statistically much closer to hidfo.ru than the non-government portals mno.hu and index.hu. Thus, while magyaridok.hu, pestisracok.hu, 888.hu, and lokal.hu are indirectly financed by the Hungarian government through advertising for ministries and state-owned enterprises, they seem to operate similarly to portals that are members of the Russian state-run propaganda apparatus in terms of the issues analysed in our paper.


Paper in English (summary with tables and figures, pdf)

Paper in Hungarian (pdf)

Figures & data (xlsx)

Main data of the analysed articles (zip[dta], zip[csv])

The wordlist of hidfo.ru (xlsx)

List of articles that contains the new words of dehumanization (“migrant-terror”; “migrant-crime”; “migrant-violence”) concerning the refugees in the Hungarian online media (pdf)

List of articles that contains the word “Putin” in mindenegyben.com (pdf)

List of articles that contains the word “migrant” in mindenegyben.com (pdf)

List of articles that contains the word “Putin” or “migrant” in mindenegyben.com, with titles in English (xlsx)