Harold Hutchison / December 7, 2018

Apple Watches Us, but Who Watches Apple?

Tim Cook claims it would be “sinful” to allow what it calls hate speech on its platform.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook recently declared that censorship was a moral imperative. The declaration he made while receiving the first “Courage Against Hate” award from the Anti-Defamation League generated a lot of support from the usual mainstream media outlets. That said, there is just one question that none of those outlets asked: Who gets to decide what constitutes “hate speech” that would be “sinful” to not censor?

Cook certainly seems to have his own ideas about whose voice should be muzzled in the public square. Apple was quick to yank Gab off the App Store, taking action against a competitor to Twitter. Apple cited Gab’s alleged promotion of hate speech for that decision, and Cook stated very clearly when he accepted the award that the company he runs is “not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions.”

We can stipulate that Apple owns the App Store, and as the owner of the App Store, it has every right to decide what is sold via that platform and what isn’t. But the fact is, Cook also claimed when he accepted the ADL award that his company wants to help create “experiences that value creativity and new ideas.”

This sort of situation is why many on the Right are long past casting a wary eye at Silicon Valley. If Apple can team up with Google to hobble a competitor to Twitter, who’s the next target for these tech giants?

More worrisome, the next target could be anything that might offend certain sensibilities. For example, a wargame called Afghanistan ‘11, which didn’t even have killing the Taliban as the primary objective, was pulled from the App Store because Apple claimed it targeted a specific country. The company behind the game, Slitherine, stated in a Dec. 6 Facebook post, “Our game is based on history and we always try and depict real historical situations.”

If you were doing a World War II flight simulator, you’d expect to fly on one side or another. Many simulations, including Il-2 Sturmovik 1946, give you a choice of which country you want to fly for. Would Apple see an app version of that game as targeting specific countries? Based on the decision to pull Afghanistan `11, they very well could. No wonder Slitherine is “pretty disappointed and angry.”

But Slitherine is still quite small — only a few thousand “likes” on its Facebook page. In a very real sense, Slitherine is the type of target that would appear to be safe for Apple to push around. A small, niche game publisher can be very vulnerable and probably has nowhere near the resources for a public-relations battle that Apple can bring to bear for its nonsense assertion.

But there is a bigger issue here. Apple’s Cook claims it would be “sinful” to allow what it calls hate speech on its platform. And while Apple’s leaders certainly have the right to their views on what is objectionable enough to warrant exclusion on their platform, who will watch our self-appointed moral guardians based at Cupertino? Or, for that matter, the other Silicon Valley titans who have been taking sides on political debates, even as they claim certain protections available to those who are acting as even-handed honest brokers? That is a question to which Americans deserve some straight answers.

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