Fans and politics in an illiberal state

Tibor Dessewffy

ELTE, Faculty of Social Sciences, Budapest, Hungary

Mikes Mezei

Datalyze Research

[0.1] Abstract—Certain extremely successful popular culture contents may convey democratic values that can have an impact on the political views of readers and fans. The differences in the values of Harry Potter fans and average Facebook users using social data about public Facebook activity are examined. Even though currently only a minority share the values that the Harry Potter stories embody, they are still an important segment of society that one might not even be aware of if one only follows the state-controlled media and make up a significant majority of the Hungarian media market. Understanding this culturally constructed fan network is thus academically and socially relevant.

[0.2] Keywords—Democracy; Facebook; Harry Potter; Hungary; Social media data; Social movements

Dessewffy, Tibor, and Mikes Mezei. 2020. "Fans and Politics in an Illiberal State." In "Fandom and Politics," edited by Ashley Hinck and Amber Davisson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 32.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The cover of the book Cultural Backlash, written jointly by Ronald Inglehart, one of the founding fathers of comparative values research, and Pippa Norris, a highly respected empirical sociologist, features three profiles, as a Mount Rushmore of sorts of self-proclaimed illiberal leaders: the US president Donald Trump, the leading French opposition politician Marine Le Pen, and the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán (2019). To many in the West, the choice of the latter might seem surprising. After all, Hungary is a small Eastern European country that hardly ever plays a major role in world politics. Still, the selection of Orbán was neither random nor coincidental: He is the most successful of the trio; he is the one who has given rise to a model of an entirely new type of politics, not only because he won three successive elections with a two-thirds majority but also because he has gone the furthest thus far in dismantling liberal democracy, in scaling back the rule of law, and in eliminating the system of checks and balances. Le Pen has never been in government, and Trump—although he clearly has far greater impact on global events—has not been able to eliminate opposition media, has no direct influence on law enforcement, and has been unable to totally relegate the political opposition to the background. Hungary is not a dictatorship yet, but what is unprecedented about the Orbán government is that it has used EU subsidies to build an authoritarian regime within the European Union while formally complying with democratic procedural rules. Trump can only dream of such total political dominance, of Orbán's exclusive control over resources or his hegemonic position in the political arena, but he does not have the faintest hope of emulating it. Put in a somewhat simplified manner, the reason is that while most of the world has only realized the massive political ramifications of populism once Donald Trump was elected to the US presidency, Hungary has been dominated by such a political force for a long time now. In Steve Bannon's words, Orbán was "Trump before Trump" (quoted in Pop and Hinshaw 2018).

[1.2] There are several reasons for this success, and we do not have the space here to elaborate in great detail. At the same time, even a superficial glance at the current situation in Hungary reveals that the opposition parties are divided and fragmented, and the Fidesz party led by Viktor Orbán towers over them while the overwhelming majority of society looks at the ubiquitous corruption scandals of the governing party apathetically and appears to be supportive of Orbán's anti-refugee ideology, which posits that culture must be ineluctably homogeneous.

[1.3] After taking office in 2010, Orbán had a new constitution adopted, called the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and completely revamped the legal institutional framework in the country. Upon his reelection in 2014, he used the slogan of creating a so-called "national bourgeois class" to accelerate corruption, using front men to ensure that he and his immediate circle emerge as the most important centers of economic power in Hungary. His next reelection, in 2018, saw his announcement of an offensive in the realm of culture. CEU, branded as the "Soros university," was hounded out of Hungary, forcing the university to open a campus in Vienna, where newly enrolled students will begin their studies. With a slight delay, the government has also set its sights on the research network and the assets of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), and its ban on gender studies at Hungarian institutions of higher education and the decision to strip independent theaters of their subsidies are some of the most visible steps along this road. At the same time, the organic, bottom-up processes of digital convergence in culture are more difficult to control politically.

[1.4] A glance at the Hungarian fan fiction site, Merengő (, underscores this. Merengő was established in 2004 and fifteen years later it contains 17,341 works of fan fiction by 4,462 authors (Kerekes 2018). The single biggest category is books, with 7,486 works, where fans wrote further chapters and books related to their beloved bestsellers. What we find here is that the conservative authors who best embody the values of the governing party that seeks to establish a cultural hegemony hardly exist at all. On the contrary, the list of the books that top the rankings of novels that have inspired the most efforts to further develop the original storyline looks as follows: Game of Thrones 63; Twilight 370; and Harry Potter 6,923 pieces of original works.

[1.5] This stunning level of activity can be explained in part by the fact that Harry Potter is not only popular among active and creative fans in Hungary—the series has a vast social base. According to a survey of reading habits, J. K. Rowling is the most popular author among Hungarian teenagers today, who tend to cite Harry Potter as their favorite book (Toth 2017). That is why it is no exaggeration for Toth to claim that "it appears that as of 2017 there is not a single novel or work of fiction that is capable of generating a reading fever on par with that unleashed by Harry Potter, which has emerged as the shared experience of an entire generation" (27).

[1.6] Thus, we can assert that even under the conditions of illiberal democracy, the popularity of Harry Potter is undiminished. Hence, the starting question that our research centers on is the following: Might there be some additional reserves left that democratic politics in Hungary could mobilize by drawing on the potential inherent in mass culture? Put differently, could certain mass culture contents lead to a revitalization of democratic political activism, could they inspire and motivate large numbers of individuals to exert themselves in the interest of the public good—even in Hungary, where the structural and institutional dominance of the authoritarian government is unprecedented within the EU?

[1.7] To investigate these questions, we look at a global mass culture phenomenon, namely the possible effects of the Harry Potter universe. With respect to Harry Potter, the political values that are implicated may not be obvious at first sight, but they have nevertheless given rise to political activism all around the world (Hinck 2012; Jenkins 2009). In Hungary, the elements of the Harry Potter universe are also immensely popular, but so far, they have not been articulated in the political arena. But we believe that, in a Gramscian sense, if the cultural values are embedded in a given community, sooner or later political activism along those lines will emerge.

[1.8] We are pursuing a dual objective in our research. For one, we explore whether popular culture may also provide a resource to understand political behavior and activism in an illiberal regime that is nevertheless also supported by an electorally dominant plurality of the voting public. At the same time, we also use an innovative methodology that is based on a non-invasive collection and categorization of publicly available social media data. In an article titled "Desperately Seeking the Methods—New Directions in Fan Studies Research," Evans and Stasi call for the development of new, innovative methods that are better able to capture the changes in the technoscape of fandom (2014). We do not argue here that we can provide the definite methodological solution sought by the authors, but our own efforts were inspired by this challenge. The methodology we offer here has already yielded some promising results and may also be useful in answering further questions, while at the same time it offers a potential path forward—although a rather unruly one—for fandom research (Dessewffy and Váry 2017). In a broader sense, our goal is to use social media data from public Facebook pages to see where there might be an opening for reinvigorating political engagement in a political climate that has tended to successfully forestall public discourse on politics.

[1.9] Starting from this dual—methodological and substantial—objective, we identified a hitherto underrepresented terrain in the literature analyzing the relationship between culture and politics.

[1.10] In the following, we briefly review the relevant academic literature. Moving on, we sketch the Harry Potter phenomenon as it pertains to our research topic, that is with a view toward its potential implications in terms of political values. Finally, we present the research methodology, which is followed by the research results and the discussion thereof.

2. Theoretical considerations

[2.1] In the following section we review the relevant literature on the booming fandom literature. To highlight just how complex this literature has become, the UC Davis library recently created a selected bibliography that contains over eighty pages of titles devoted to the subject ("Harry Potter Turns 21" 2018).

[2.2] Thus, we only wish to clarify two questions that seem methodologically, politically, and intellectually unavoidable to us: what do we consider as fandom in this research and how do we assess the relationship between fandom and activism?

3. What is fandom—What does the concept encompass?

[3.1] Scientific interest in fandom culture began to increase by drawing on the groundwork provided by the research on subcultures in the 1970s (Hills 2002; Click and Scott 2018). In the early periods of this research, both public opinion and the relevant academic literature tended to look at fandom audiences as either biased fanatics or as the victims of the mechanisms that assert the interests of the cultural institutional structure—the latter notion owed in particular to an interpretation of the relevant theories of Adorno (1991). Owing to the impact of writings by Camille Bacon-Smith (1992) and Henry Jenkins (1992), starting in the mid-1990s the field of fandom research emerged not only as a popular research topic but also as a domain of academic discourse that questions established ideas and preconceptions.

[3.2] Although the dominant narratives have become increasingly refined and sophisticated over time, the scientific examinations of the activities of fans still tend to identify and emphasize markers of religious fanaticism when discussing fans, which has over time become nuanced by more gradualist understandings of the intensity of fandom. The focus in this field has shifted toward various modes and intensities of attention (Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998) as well as the intensity of participation in fandom culture (Jenkins quoted in Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007), and this trend has tended to render the overall picture more nuanced. In his work, Jenkins also speaks about fans and followers as participants who consume, enjoy, produce, use, and reshape contents (2017).

[3.3] In this sense, the fan is more than a mere bedazzled follower or an "ideal consumer" (Hills 2002, 44). On the one hand—in terms of their actual activity—they are an active prosumer, while at the same time they are also an entity that (re)present themselves through their fandom (Janissary Collective 2014) whose relationship with the entity they follow is primarily affective (Baym 2010). Fan motivations can thus not be reduced to an interest in a given type of content (film, series, comics, etc.). Involvement in community work and the recognition thereof also play an important role, as does establishing and maintaining contacts between fans (Bury 2018).

4. Toward the notion of interactive fandom

[4.1] There are several critics who believe this notion of fandom to be idealized. Even though active creative participation undoubtedly mobilizes massive emotional energies, it is at the same time also obvious that not all fans become actively engaged (Hay and Couldry 2011). The academic literature distinguishes between various degrees of fandom based on the intensity of fandom and the decisive role it plays in individual identity formation (Coppa, 2014; Dessewffy, Nagy, and Váry 2017).

[4.2] This is also important because in the following we will present the results of a research project that draws on the underlying data from users' social media footprints. We examine fan activities on public pages rather than the usual creative practices (creation, curation, remix, etc.) associated with fandom. In this context, it is worth recalling the distinction drawn by Nico Carpentier, who distinguishes between the two modes of behavior—"participation in media creation" and the "interaction with media text"—where the focus is on the audience's polysemic reaction to the given text (2011, 521). For our research, the introduction of the term "interactive fandom" is vital because in our classification of social media activity, which we will outline below, we assume that following a given page or post, or posting likes on these platforms, indicates a stronger bond than what would be implied by a passive interest or consumption (Salganik 2017).

[4.3] Based on the aforementioned, what we can say about the affinity that can be captured through Facebook likes is that it is an intermediate form of interaction: the reactions on public pages denote a type of commitment to the underlying issue, but in their intensity they nevertheless lag behind the activities of fan fiction authors, who might be called the diehard fans. In this sense, when capturing the particular universe of reactions, we move away from and expand the horizon of the traditional approach of fandom research that is primarily focused on texts and active participation.

[4.4] In reality, we feel that instead of trying to gauge the level of fandom and the fans' (presumed) internal motivations, it is more appropriate to use an approach that looks at the variety of fan practices as a complex system. Thus, instead of examining the level of involvement or the creative practices of the fans in the Harry Potter universe, we propose to reconstruct and interpret the complex patterns of public affairs-related activities among them. To put this more simply, what motivates our research is not a desire to separate the simple spectator, the lurker, from the fanatical fans, but to look instead at the variety of follower (fan) practices and how they overlap and intersect with an interest in public affairs. These considerably more mundane, everyday reactions tend to be delimited by the preset options that Facebook provides its users with. These mundane online activities, reactions, and digital footprints are substantial not only in terms of their sheer numbers but also in providing a more comprehensive overview of the characteristics of a decisive portion of the audience, thereby giving the observer a more accurate picture of the fanbase.

5. Fandom activism—A dormant beast?

[5.1] We need to distinguish between two periods in the brief history of fan activism: the period of shielding/preserving and shaping contents and the period of public/political participation. As Brough and Shresthova also stress in their study, early research on the subject tended to focus on fans who lobby for their favorite series, asking that these shows not be cancelled or demanding that racial or sexual minorities be properly represented in the given show (2012). The definition of fan activism proposed by Earl and Kimport (2009), which argues that such activism is "not about the mix between political concerns and culture but rather action that looks like political activism but is used toward nonpolitical ends" (221), provides a good way of capturing this period. In the second approach to understanding fan activism, by contrast, we are looking at activism that involves public affairs and politics-related activities organized around the value system and worldview propounded by the underlying content. These activities often draw on the structures, groups, events, and networks that have emerged along the lines of fan interest in the given content. For the purposes of the present study, the most prominent example cited in the academic literature is the Harry Potter Alliance, which will be discussed below (Jenkins 2012; Hinck 2012; Kligler-Vilenchik et al. 2012). The Harry Potter Alliance is an excellent example of second-generation fan activism, since it organizes a broad array of social activities that orient themselves along the values delineated by the Harry Potter novels.

[5.2] From our perspective, too, the second approach is more relevant. At the same time, however, it is not sufficient.

[5.3] Steven Duncombe (2012) begins his essay on digital activism by stating the following: "Scratch an activist and you're apt to find a fan. It's no mystery why: fandom provides a space to explore fabricated worlds that operate according to different norms, laws, and structures than those we experience in our 'real' lives." Even if that is the case, it is not clear if the reverse is true as well, whether every fan can be assumed to be an activist. Our investigation is also aimed at examining such a situation; that is, we are looking at a community that does not articulate political preferences, and in the process, we seek to ascertain whether we find any indications of a dormant activism that may be ready to be converted into actual activism (figure 1).

A grid with the heading 'Social effect' at the top, with 'Global success,' 'Modest success,' and 'Remained under the radar' listed along the left-hand side, 'Topics with no explicit political linkage,' 'Topics which can be interpreted as a political issue,' and 'Specifically political topics' listed along the bottom. Along the intersecting points of the grid are circles of varying sizes, listing Dracula, The Knick, 1600 Penn, The last man on earth, Rectify, Boss, Survivor, Harry Potter, and House of Cards.

Figure 1. Matrix showing the relative impact of different works of mass culture.

[5.4] In our study we wish to explore whether the Harry Potter mass cultural phenomenon, which is presented in the matrix above as an example of contents that had a global impact, has also exerted a discernible effect in terms of changing attitudes toward public life. In so doing, we will combine various phenomena affiliated with different periods of media history—because these are in fact connected in reality. What this means specifically is that we will explore the digital and social media footprint that the Harry Potter films and books have engendered because the fan status that is at the forefront of this research project, as well as the values that the latter reflect, can be best examined and analyzed on these platforms.

6. Harry Potter—Global impact

[6.1] The Harry Potter universe was launched in 1997 with a book by J. K. Rowling. The first movie adaptation was released in 2001, and like the written version, it enjoys great popularity worldwide. At the center of the story is a little boy who learns that something that we might call a magical world exists and that he is one of the wizards in this world. Thereafter he embarks on his adventurous journey and gets to know this previously unknown world, the fascinating wizard school at Hogwarts, where he spends most of his time. He repeatedly engages the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, Harry's nemesis—who not only threatens the magical universe but the entire world population and who uses unethical and evil instruments to subdue his enemies and take control of the world.

[6.2] The first volume in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997), was translated into eighty languages ("Harry Potter to Be Translated" 2017), and 120 million copies were sold worldwide (Lee et al. 2018). The concluding volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), sold some 15 million copies within 24 hours of its publication ("Celebrity 100" 2008). As we mentioned before, this wave of global success did not elude Hungary, either.

[6.3] In fact, as recent research has shown, the books in the Harry Potter series are the most popular and most widely read works of fiction among Hungarians aged fourteen to eighteen, with 56 percent in this cohort saying that they have read them. The next in the ranking of most popular novels are the books in the vampire romance series Twilight (2005–2008), which have been read by 42 percent (Gombos, Hevérné, and Kiss 2015).

[6.4] Actually, Hungarian government policy evinces an awareness of Harry Potter's popularity and has reacted to it: The state secretary for education, Rózsa Hoffmann, justified the introduction of a new uniform and centrally mandated elementary school curriculum by arguing that "significant changes can be expected, since national literacy has become disrupted and "Harry Potter is gradually taking the place of János vitéz [one of the classic pieces of Hungarian literature]" ("Hoffmann Rózsa" 2010).

[6.5] Thus, we observe an interesting contradiction between research on the sociology of reading and political processes. Even while Harry Potter's popularity in Hungary remains overwhelming, for the time being illiberal-authoritarianism seems to be similarly muscular in its own realm of politics. Therefore in examining the impact of the Harry Potter series, we were interested in the fans' value systems of both the novel and the movie versions.

7. Harry Potter as a vehicle of political values

[7.1] Analyses on the consumption of popular culture and the values implicitly embedded in the latter may provide information and narratives that could be vital in shaping and framing public action. These implicit cultural values could work as dormant variables, value settings that may be activated if certain political conditions prevail. This dormant potential renders their proper understanding relevant even if they have not been converted into direct political action yet.

[7.2] From a psychological perspective, Vezzali and his colleagues have shown through experiments, for example, that the messages emanating from the Harry Potter universe—which are of preeminent importance for the present study as well—have increased individuals' tolerance toward refugees and gays. As part of this research, the authors specifically also looked at instances when individuals identified with Voldemort, the arch-villain of the Harry Potter novels, rather than only with the positive characters. Their results showed that this kind of attachment did not result in increased levels of tolerance (2015).

[7.3] The examination of the impact of the Harry Potter universe on personality formation is not without precedent. In her study titled "Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald," Diana Mutz looked at the values of Harry Potter fans with respect to their assessments of Donald Trump (2016). She emphasizes three key considerations, drawing a parallel between the message and values conveyed by the Harry Potter stories on the one hand, and the behavior and value commitments embodied by Donald Trump (who was only an intensely campaigning candidate at the time when the study was written) on the other. The three considerations are the following: the importance of tolerance and the acceptance of and respect for other values and other people; nonviolence; and the dangers of autocracy.

[7.4] The main messages of the Harry Potter series align with the ideas listed above, while Trump's political communication and personal statements, by contrast, represent values that are antithetical to these and convey those values to his supporters. Mutz showed that the readers of Harry Potter novels were less likely to be Trump supporters than individuals who were not among the fans of the magic world inhabited by Harry Potter (2016). The worldview that the Harry Potter universe exudes is unequivocally a socially open, welcoming and accepting vision of the world, which eschews a closed mindset that rejects differences and minorities (McEvoy-Levy 2018).

[7.5] The subtle hints and parallels that connect this fictional story to real world problems are readily apparent. The main theoretical thesis advanced by the present study is that because of these parallels it is impossible to separate the impact on character formation of this globally immensely successful fairytale, which was launched as fictional entertainment, from abstract political notions in the everyday consciousness of individuals.

[7.6] In Hungary, a staunchly right-wing government that enjoys broad social support has just commenced its third consecutive term in office with a massive electoral mandate. It is led by a political figure who is authoritarian and steers the country toward greater centralization (Magyar 2016). The process of enemy construction in the sense proposed by Carl Schmitt, which has consistently characterized the practices of the Orbán government since 2010, has identified an ideal topos in the past four years: migration into Europe (Dessewffy, Nagy, and Váry 2017). As a result, Hungary has been characterized by intense political communication and marked anti-immigration rhetoric over the past four years. This political strategy entered a whole new dimension with the anti-refugee campaign that was launched in 2015. Using all tools of mass communication, the government actively sustained this rhetoric until the parliamentary election of 2018.

[7.7] The third definitional element mentioned above, the legitimation of violent means, is a more difficult issue because various aspects of the present situation could be captured by the concept of violent governance. According to critical voices and a segment of the opposition media, this could include the military and policing measures taken toward resolving the refugee crisis or the way in which the humanitarian disaster that resulted from the interaction of mass migration and the physical barrier erected on Hungary's southern border was handled (Sanderson 2018). Anti-immigration communication has thus emerged as one of the main instruments of governance, and it is used to set the political agenda and to bolster the government's legitimacy (Dessewffy, Nagy, and Váry 2017).

8. Harry Potter fandom

[8.1] Henry Jenkins argues that "Fandom is the future" because developments in social media and digital technology will make it easier for likeminded people to interact with one another, and more kinds of platforms will emerge that will allow them to discuss the subject of their mutual fandom and to help each other maintain their interest in the subject matter (quoted in Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007, 361). Although the fan is not a product of the digital age, new forms of fandom have emerged in this new age, and new possibilities have opened up to fandom in terms of allowing for the active involvement of fans in generating contents and disseminating them (Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013). Jenkins describes fandom as an element that defines collective consciousness and also as a constituent component of social organization. He argues that those who share a status as fans of the same media contents often also exhibit similar interests in unrelated areas (quoted in Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007).

[8.2] Based on the above, it is therefore worthwhile to investigate whether being a fan of a work of fiction with a political message correlates with political activism or a higher sense of social responsibility.

9. Harry Potter activism

[9.1] In addition, there is the emergence of organic political activity as a result of Harry Potter fandom (Jenkins 2012; Hinck 2012; Kligler-Vilenchik et al. 2012). Fandoms may become mobilized in the pursuit of public goals through the extension of mutual values across the fan community. A case in point is the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) founded by Andrew Slack in 2005. The HPA is a civil nonprofit organization operated by Harry Potter fans. The members of the group are united in their commitment to the values and convictions that the Harry Potter stories embody, and their goal is to engage in political life as a civic organization, to mobilize others, and to include them in spreading the values they mutually espouse (Jenkins 2012).

[9.2] Today, there are 138 chapters of the Harry Potter Alliance in forty-four federal states of the United States, and the organization is also present in twenty-six countries across five continents. Their activities include a wide variety of areas, from helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake to campaigns for net neutrality. Rowling herself has endorsed the HPA, while Jenkins identifies it as a new type of civic organization: "The HP Alliance has created a new form of civic engagement which allows participants to reconcile their activist identities with the pleasurable fantasies that brought the fan community together in the first place" (2009).

[9.3] In other words, the HPA is the prototype of a political network organized along values of popular culture phenomena. What matters from our perspective is that the example of HPA illustrates persuasively that Harry Potter-based fandom is not merely a theoretical possibility. In part because of the impact of the global reach of the Potterverse and in part because of the impact on the audience of the values articulated therein, the Harry Potter phenomenon has given rise to genuine and broad political/public affairs activism in the United States and many other countries around the world (Hinck 2012).

10. The lack of a movement—Dormant values

[10.1] By contrast, the HPA is not even present in Hungary as an organization. Since we have already shown that Harry Potter is not simply present but is in fact extraordinarily successful in Hungary and has a major impact, this leads us to the question of whether it is maybe the absence of an institutional organization that could explain why the existing Hungarian fandom has pursued a different value trajectory, why it deduces different values from Harry Potter. This question can only be answered if we examine the values and—based on our particular research methodology—the value-based online behaviors that characterize this fandom.

[10.2] It is important to stress that in the prevailing Hungarian situation, the values exuded by the Harry Potter universe, and the networks and online communities that organize along the lines of these values, can be of substantial interest. What is relevant for our argument is that the country is characterized by substantial fragmentation. People with similar outlooks and interests tend to cluster into increasingly homogeneous groups while those who hold opposing views are more likely to become further removed from them. One large segment of the public supports keeping a government in power that is based on conservative, nationalistic values, while others belong to various smaller groups with liberal, left-wing, and/or social democratic values. To put this more succinctly, what we fundamentally seek to explore is how the Harry Potter series, which openly espouses the values of tolerance, acceptance, and social openness, can be so successful in a social context where right-wing political attitudes, national pride, and anti-migration views (Székely and Szabó 2017) continue to be typical of young people—who are at the same time also broadly characterized by political apathy and a basic commitment to democracy (Dessewffy, Nagy, and Váry 2017).

[10.3] Below we will investigate how this value disposition correlates with other political/public affairs affinities. We researched interests, affinities, and consumption patterns as they can be reconstructed from Facebook activities. A huge advantage of this method as compared to the standard survey methodologies is that through its use of digital footprints it provides the analysis with data taken from real life (Salganik 2017). It is also indicated by the novelty of Big Data-based social media analysis in sociological research. Even though it holds out the prospect of legions of new research opportunities, as of yet this type of analysis does not have an established and standard methodology and benchmarks associated with it, which means that our paper is at the same time also a methodological experiment.

11. Methodology

[11.1] It is possible to reconstruct preferences involving tastes and interests based on an individual's Facebook activity. These activities are the digital imprints of our lives. Liking a Facebook post on a certain issue or commenting on a post that concerns public affairs allow for certain conclusions concerning the user's tastes, values, and consumption patterns (Salganik 2017). For instance, those who are regularly active on the pages of online bookshops are more than likely individuals who read, while those who are active on the platforms of gas stations are likely to be motor vehicle owners, etc.

[11.2] While we consider digital footprint analysis to be an extremely exciting direction for social science, obviously this method, like all methods, has its limitations. One of the most obvious is that it is an observation-based method that uncovers correlations and does not present causation. However, these correlations and intersections may, ideally, shed light on a new phenomenon.

[11.3] In our research we used public Facebook data to identify Harry Potter fans. The data that we relied on to design our target group stem from the Hungarian Facebook pages affiliated with the Harry Potter novels, movies, or games.

[11.4] Facebook enables us to collect public activity through Facebook's Graph API—our analysis of the target groups is based on an anonymous database created through such an API. Before performing the research, we categorized the Facebook pages qualitatively and created segments based on areas of interest, preferences, and consumption patterns. In this research, we used those among segments that appear to indicate an interest in public affairs and society. Ours could be described as a mixed-method methodology in that the data (reactions, users, and platforms) collection and storage, as well as the analysis of their intersections and overlaps, are performed quantitatively using computer science methods, while the categorization of the various platforms is performed as part of a qualitative process. We present the process of data collection and data categorization in figure 2.

A flowchart with three boxes joined by arrows pointing to the right. The first box is titled 'Data collection' and says 'Collecting activities on public Facebook platforms with the help of the Facebook Graph API.' The second box is titled 'Building the database' and says 'Creating an anonymous database with the Facebook users and Facebook interfaces collected.' The third box is titled 'Categorization of platforms' and says 'Researchers manually select and review the interfaces the database, coding them into segments.'

Figure 2. Flowchart showing the process of data collection and data categorization.

[11.5] Before the analysis, we manually collected all the Hungarian Harry Potter-related Facebook pages, groups, and events with user activity between 2014 and 2018. We identified thirty-five platforms based on this collection (See Table S1).

[11.6] Our research sample is made up of users who performed activity on the platforms in Table S1 between January 1, 2014, and June 1, 2018. During the period, the number of active users on the thirty-five Harry Potter platforms was 14,200 persons.

[11.7] In the case of Facebook pages, we did not use page likes for our analysis but instead looked at activities performed on the given platforms. By activity we mean any likes, reactions, or comments on any content shared by the public Facebook pages, a membership in a Facebook group, or attending a Facebook event, as well as an indication of potential attendance (maybe attending, unsure). To examine the users' areas of interest, we looked at the target group's Facebook activities with respect to the contents disseminated by the public platforms and juxtaposed these with the activities of 5,521,872 Hungarian Facebook users. The total number of observations, that is the activities performed by the target group, add up to 14,095,856 data points. In the context of the Facebook pages, we did not use page likes to draw up the target group profiles (as we pointed out above) but instead considered activities (likes, reactions, and comments) related to contents disseminated on the public pages. The reason is that we believe that liking a Facebook page does not in and of itself imply that the user will like the content that appears there, while such a preference is far more likely to be implied in an activity reacting to a specific content. We did not use demographic data in analyzing the data because of Facebook's business policies; we can only make inferences about these based on the trends and characteristics that emerge from the target group's activities. Figure 3 presents the process of identifying the target group and performing the data analysis.

A flowchart with three boxes connected by arrows pointing to the right. The first box is titled 'Operationalization' and says 'Identifying the Harry Potter-related platforms (35 platforms).' The second box is titled 'Target group designation' and says 'Identifying the research sample, i.e. the group of use who make up the Harry Potter fandom (14,200 persons).' The third box is titled 'Analysis' and says 'Analyzing the target groups' features and preferences (14,095,865 activities).'

Figure 3. Flowchart identifying the target group and the process of analysis.

[11.8] For our research, we used the following of the Facebook platforms that we had previously hand-coded and categorized into segments according to areas of interests, preferences, and attitudes: Public affairs; Political party; Civic organization, NGO movement; Charity and social issues; Environmentalism and sustainable development. To perform the analysis, we drew up tables that feature the preferences of Harry Potter fan groups. The figures that we generated based on Facebook data contain the following information: the above-listed segments, the total number of Facebook users in the given segment, and the overlap between the target group and the given segments (ratio of activity). The final figure shows how many active users there were in the given segments (See Table S2).

12. Results

[12.1] In the following, we present the preferences and attitudes of the 14,200 Facebook users with a Harry Potter affinity who were included in the sample we generated for our social media analysis. For this purpose, we looked at the digital footprint that these users generated on public affairs, political, and social issues (see Tables S3, S4, and S5).

[12.2] One observation about the users with an affinity for Harry Potter is that (despite their young age) (note 1) they exhibit a high level of political activity, as 85 percent of them were active in the category of platforms that we defined as making up the public affairs segment, that is on some Facebook page, group, or event involving a public affairs issue. This ratio was high compared to the average Hungarian Facebook users (the overrepresentation value was 26; in other words the 85 percent rate of activity is far above average as compared to Facebook users overall) (note 2). Half of the users with Harry Potter affinity (50 percent) were active on the platforms of political parties, which is also higher than the Hungarian average (the overrepresentation score was 15).

[12.3] In addition to a general interest in public affairs, we also examined how active Harry Potter fans were on the pages of civic organizations, NGOs, and social movements, as well as charity and welfare organizations. The analysis reveals that based on their Facebook footprints, 40 percent of Harry Potter fans are active on charity-related Facebook pages, which is also rather high compared to the often-mentioned general apathy of Hungarian society. (The overrepresentation value was 4). We also observed that 35 percent of them are interested in civic organizations, NGOs, or some type of social movement. (The overrepresentation score for this segment was 7).

13. Discussion

[13.1] In addition to analyzing the activities in the broader context of public affairs contents and political parties, we also zoomed in to explore what type of contents users engaged with most actively at the level of individual Facebook pages. The analysis of user activities on various Facebook pages revealed the dominance of major left-wing/liberal news sites (, HVG, and the major left-wing political blogs (444, Mérce, Fideszfigyelő) among different media pages. We also observed higher than average levels of activity on the Facebook pages of these media outlets. However, blogs and newspapers heavily influenced by the Orbán government (Pesti Srácok, Magyar Idők, Mandiner) did not score well; the overlap between the target group's online activity and these sites is 1 percent. The media consumption patterns of the Harry Potter group clearly demonstrate an openness to left-wing/liberal media and a lack of interest in progovernment news outlets.

[13.2] With respect to political parties, the overall picture was mixed. What we can assert is that the group of persons with Harry Potter affinity cannot be clearly assigned to any political camp or the other; in fact, they exhibit manifold and often opposing party preferences. Harry Potter fans were most active on the pages of the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party (Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt, 26 percent), a satirical political party, the Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom, 9 percent) and Momentum (5 percent). In this context it is important to note, for one, that the aforementioned parties are overrepresented among youths: a representative survey (Szabolcs 2018) of 2,400 persons performed by one of the most reputable Hungarian public opinion research companies in December 2018 revealed that Momentum has 31 percent support among eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds, while Jobbik has 11 percent (which is still higher than in the population at large, where it stands at 9 percent) (note 3). Nevertheless, with a 36 percent level of support among the youngest cohort of voters, Fidesz-KDNP enjoys the highest level of support, which makes it all the more striking that we did not see any activities on the part of Harry Potter fans on Fidesz-related platforms (even if the present analysis only allows us to make assertions about those fans who are active on Facebook).

[13.3] Of the parties mentioned above, the Two-tailed Dog Party is an anti-establishment satirical party that is extraordinarily popular in the online space and on social media pages. Their most prominent slogan is "Free beer and eternal life for everybody." Still, with a result of only 1.7 percent, they failed to achieve a breakthrough in the 2018 parliamentary election. Jobbik had started out as a radical right-wing party with militaristic features, but in recent years it has begun to pivot toward the center and is now trying to reposition itself as a center-right people's party; this process has been accompanied by intraparty conflicts and a party split. Jobbik enjoys a high level of support among Hungarian youth, and the party has been very active in reaching out to and mobilizing young people from the very start. Seen from that angle, the 9 percent rate of activity may even be said to be low. The Momentum Movement is a small centrist-liberal party that was founded in March 2017, and thus we only had one year's worth of data on Momentum-related activity in the data collection period (as opposed to the four years of data collection on the other parties). In light of the fact that Momentum only received 2.2 percent of the votes in the 2018 national parliamentary elections, their 5 percent share of activity on the party's Facebook page could be described as significant.

[13.4] These platforms in question are primarily the Facebook pages of certain political efforts directed against the Fidesz-KDNP government that have grown beyond their initially limited objectives and now often serve as sources of general political news which are critical of the government (Százezren az internetadó ellen [Hundred Thousand Against the Internet Tax], Egymillióan a magyar sajtószabadságért [One Million for Press Freedom in Hungary]), but we also saw high activity on the pages of civic groups and NGOs such as Budapest Pride, Migration Aid, and Amnesty International. In addition to their preference for these human rights organizations—which the currently prevailing government propaganda seeks to portray as left-wing/liberal groups – those in the target group were likely to be active on the pages of civic organizations that perform social/welfare-related activities (e.g. the Hungarian Interchurch Aid or the National Ambulance Service). Roughly a third (31 percent) of Harry Potter fans were active on pages relating to environmentalism and sustainable development. They were also preeminently active on the page of the environmental organization Greenpeace Hungary, but on the whole, it can be said that they were generally less interested in this subject matter than in public affairs/politics or social/welfare related issues. Figure 4 presents the overlap between the group with a Harry Potter affinity and the segments we analyzed.

A row of five circles with outer rings shaded to align with the percentages listed in the center of each circle. From the left Public affairs, 85 percent; Political party, 50 percent; Charity and social issues, 40 percent; Civic organization, NGO movement, 35 percent; Environmentalism and sustainable development, 31 percent.

Figure 4. Flowchart showing the overlap between the group with a Harry Potter affinity and the segments analyzed.

[13.5] Summarizing the above, it appears that Harry Potter fans evince not only a high level of interest in public affairs and politics but are also sensitive when it comes to social and welfare-related issues, even though their political preferences are mixed and the distribution of their party preferences includes right and left-wing parties alike. These observations mesh with the survey research data cited above, and it is apparent that the members of the group displayed a high level of social sensitivity not only in their professed attitudes but also based on the actual activities they perform. In this context, we should stress especially that this is the case despite the fact that the affinity toward Jobbik (the formerly far-right military party that has tried to reposition itself as a center-right people's party over the years) is exceedingly high in this group (also as a function of the young age of the target group).

[13.6] Finally, the question we need to ask is how generalizable these partial empirical results are. Do the value preferences of Harry Potter fans that we investigated and demonstrated above suggest that this group could serve as a new base for political activism more broadly understood?

[13.7] According to the first results of the European Value Study, trust in and the social acceptance of political institutions is at a low point in Western societies and in Hungary even more so, especially among the younger generations (EVS 2018). The basic question we explored in our research was whether being a fan of Harry Potter is correlated with a more open attitude toward public affairs and reflects more active social/political attitudes. Based on the empirical examples examined here, it can be asserted that this relationship unequivocally exists.

[13.8] We used a specific case study, the preferences and character of the fans of the Harry Potter universe, to show persuasively that such a value structure that harmonizes with substantial messages does exist. However, to assess whether this relationship is causal, how potent it is, how generally it applies, and what type of public life activism it engenders, would take much further research. Still, we are also in a fortunate situation in this regard because the reconstructions we created from the multitude of digital footprints lay the groundwork and open up the possibility of further research on this topic.

14. Epilogue

[14.1] The reader may recall that Momentum, a generational party founded in 2017 that explicitly seeks to attract and represent youths, has generated sufficient online reaction to be measurable in our research despite the lack of a long history. Still, the party failed to reach the parliamentary threshold of 5 percent in the national election of April 2018. In the European election of May 2019, Momentum achieved a stunning breakthrough when it won 10 percent of the votes, receiving a spectacular 17 percent in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. We obviously do not suggest that this particular success is owed to their references to Harry Potter, but what we can nevertheless say with certainty is that under the illiberal Orbán regime it was the newcomer party that actively used the Harry Potter mythology to mobilize the Harry Potter generation which generated perhaps the most spectacular unexpected electoral result. As the party chairman, András Fekete-Győr, confirmed it, "the Harry Potter universe is relevant both as an inspiration within the organization and to successfully reach out to the new generation" (Fekete-Győr, pers. comm., July 23, 2019). It still remains to be seen how far the utilization of Harry Potter narratives will take Momentum in stimulating political activism, and how much impact they will have on Hungary by so doing. But it could be useful in awakening dormant values in society.

15. Notes

1. In analyzing Facebook data, we only collected and analyzed activities performed on public platforms. We have no access to the demographic data about users or their activities on private platforms, closed groups, and closed events. We reconstructed the young age of Harry Potter fans from the interests as they manifested in their Facebook footprint, preferences, and consumption patterns on the one hand, as well as from our survey research, which showed that 49 percent of the persons in the group with a Harry Potter affinity were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-nine.

2. For the methodology on how we measure overrepresentation, please see Methodology in the list of supplementary files.

3. The poll did not look at the support of the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party.

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