A day after Apple began the mass purge of applications depicting the Confederate flag, the Nazi Swastika is still standing prominently in some games. The choice to ban a symbol of slavery from historical games, but not of mass genocide, reveals how tech companies struggle to apply hate speech guidelines — often with strange inconsistency. At the moment, Apple allows me kill Nazis but not Confederate generals.
Apple reportedly began removing apps and games that display the Confederate flag from its store, in response to recent public pressure to remove the infamous Civil War symbol from businesses and state houses. The tech giant has even banned popular Civil War re-enactment games that display the flag in historical context, such as Civil War 1863.
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“We are writing to notify you that your app has been removed from the App Store because it includes images of the Confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways,” wrote Apple to the director of these Civil War Games, Andrew Mulholland, according to gaming blog Kotaku (I could not find the game in the app store as of this writing).
We receive a lot of letters of gratitude from American teachers who use our game in history curriculum to let kids experience one of the most important battles in American history from the Commander’s perspective…
Therefore we are not going to amend the game’s content and Ultimate General: Gettysburg will no longer be available on AppStore. We really hope that Apple’s decision will achieve the desired results. We can’t change history, but we can change the future.
Apple, like Facebook and Google, have a long history of restricting speech deemed offensive or hateful. Google famously removed a game simulating the bombing of Gaza and Apple removes “gay cure” apps. In trying to restrict pictures of bare nipples, Facebook has struggled with breastfeeding photos, initially banning them and then later relaxing the policy after criticism.
Tech companies manage an unwieldy volume of user-generated content. The relatively small staff of even very profitable tech companies are vastly outnumbered. Applying algorithms or blanked rules is an efficient way of dealing with problems, but seem to err on the side of censorship over removing hate speech.
Censorship rules are especially problematic as tech companies become the dominate channels for free speech. Ultimately, tech companies are powerful new gatekeepers of the 1st Amendment; their decisions have profound implications.