"‘Free Country, Free Internet’: The Symbolic Power of Technology in the Hungarian Internet Tax Protests." Media, Culture & Society, 2018.

Elisabetta Ferrari

In 2014, the Hungarian government announced the introduction of a tax on internet usage. The proposal generated large protests, which led to its eventual withdrawal. In this article, Ferrari investigates the puzzling success of the ‘internet tax’ protests: how could a small tax on internet consumption generate so much contestation? She argues that the internet tax was able to give way to a broader mobilization against the government, because of the symbolic power of the idea of ‘the internet’, to which different political meanings can be attached. Through interviews with Hungarian activists, she reconstructs how the internet was associated with a mobilizing discourse that she terms ‘mundane modernity’, which reproduces tropes of Western modernity about the equalizing properties of technology, progress, and rationality, while grounding them in the everyday practices of internet use. She then discusses the types of freedom embedded in mundane modernity and assess its political limitations.