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Content Moderation Case Study: Apple Removes Games Containing Confederate Flags (June 2015)

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Summary: On June 17, 2015, South Carolina native Dylann Roof entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine Black attendees. Roof was an avowed white supremacist as his consequent convictions on hate crime charges attest. Roof also published a racist manifesto to his website prior to the attack, along with photos of white supremacy emblems and the Confederate flag.

Shortly after this tragic act of racially-motivated violence, app developers noticed their apps had been removed by Apple. One of the first to notice was Hexwar Games, which noticed its Civil War strategy game was no longer available in the App Store.More developers reported the same thing happening to their titles -- all of which were strategy/simulation games that dealt with the Civil War. This action followed Apple CEO Tim Cook's public statements against the display of the Confederate flag, widely-viewed as a symbol of white supremacy.Cook's words became the App Store's actions. Games containing Confederate flags began disappearing, even if they didn't appear to violate Apple's ban on apps using the Confederate flag in "offensive or mean-spirited ways." Developers sought more clarification on the policy and reinstatement, but Apple continued to purge the store of games and apps, appearing to disregard complaints about the removal of historically-accurate games.Decisions to be made by Apple:
  • What context should be considered when determining what constitutes an "offensive" use of the Confederate flag?

  • Considering an argument often made for display of the flag (in more offensive settings) is "historical value," does allowing its use in historical representations just create more opportunities for bad faith arguments by the flag's defenders?

  • Should app developers using the flag in a historical context be required to post disclaimers, etc. explaining they're aware of its racist connotations and the use here in apps like these is purely for historical accuracy?

Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Does reacting quickly to an issue that was only tangentially-related to the Charleston shooting put Apple in the position of having to react even more quickly (and perhaps more erratically) when the next inevitable tragedy rolls around?

  • Is there a baseline established for determining what content is offensive? Is it objective or left up to App Store moderation to decide what crosses the line on a case-by-case (or, like this one, incident-by-incident) basis?

Resolution: Apple swiftly removed apps containing depictions of the Confederate flag in the wake of the racially-motivated shooting. More clarification from Apple arrived a few days later. The company began working with affected developers to get their apps reinstated. Along with the ban on use of the flag in "offensive" ways, Apple instituted a new rule forbidding the use of the Confederate flag in app icons or any "prominent display" in screenshots.

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posted at: 12:00am on 17-Oct-2020
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Another Anti-Section 230 Bill? Sure, Why Not?

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Because there haven't already been enough attempts by Congress this year to attack free speech on the internet, here's another one. Rep. Ted Budd has introduced yet another bill to wipe out Section 230 and undermine free speech online. Of course, he's really just putting his House stamp on the ridiculous and unconstitutional Senate bill released earlier this year by Senators Hawley, Rubio, Loeffler, Cotton and Braun that we took apart at the time. I'm not going to go over all the reasons the bill is ridiculous and unconstitutional. We covered that when it was released in the Senate.But Budd's "statement" about the bill deserves to be picked apart because it's utter lunacy.

Recent acts of political censorship by Twitter and Facebook are a disgrace. Big Tech bias has gone too far in suffocating the voices of conservatives across our country. If these companies want to continue to receive legal protection, they should be forced to play by a fair set of rules in good faith. I'm extremely proud to join Sen. Hawley in this fight.
Everything about this is wrong. Twitter and Facebook are not "censoring." They are moderating. They are saying there is certain speech they don't want to host, and this is their right, just like Fox News or the NY Post get to spew one sided news and the government cannot do anything about it. But they can't demand that other private companies help them promote that nonsense. That's not censorship. It's moderation or discretion. And it's protected by the 1st Amendment. You know, the thing that Rep. Budd swore to protect and uphold.Imagine if Congress introduced a bill saying that Fox News actually had to be "fair and balanced" and be more positive towards Democrats and Joe Biden. Republicans like Budd would be screaming about how that was an unfair and unconstitutional infringement of Fox News' 1st Amendment rights. And they'd be right. But the desire to ignore all that and compel speech from social media companies just demonstrates that elected officials like Budd are not coming from a place of principled support of the Constitution or free speech. Rather they are pathetic simpletons who think that they can abuse their power to force companies to promote their bullshit.That's not how it works, and we shouldn't let grifters in Congress get away with pushing such nonsense. Rep. Budd should be ashamed that he's shitting all over the 1st Amendment while pretending to support free speech. His constituents should think deeply about why they've elected someone so willing to sell out the 1st Amendment.

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posted at: 12:00am on 17-Oct-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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