A couple of days ago, I wrote about the difficulties Apple would face if it tried to censor the Confederate flag in its online stores. Unfortunately, the company - under Tim Cook's leadership - wasted no time in engaging in reactionary censorship of the Confederate flag in its app store.
Touch Arcade and other sites are reporting that Apple has begun a ham-handed purge of the app store. The company has removed games and apps that include the Confederate flag:
It's looking like Apple has pulled everything from the App Store that features a Confederate flag, regardless of context. The reasoning Apple is sending developers is "...because it includes images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways."
We just received a statement from Maxim Zasov of Game Labs, the developers of Ultimate General: Gettysburg. It is as follows:
We accept Apple's decision and understand that this is a sensitive issue for the American Nation. We wanted our game to be the most accurate, historical, playable reference of the Battle of Gettysburg. All historical commanders, unit composition and weaponry, key geographical locations to the smallest streams or farms are recreated in our game's battlefield.
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.
Spielberg’s "Schindler's List" did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical "Gettysburg" movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money.
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.
Ultimate General: Gettysburg wasn't alone in focusing on tasteful, historical accuracy. The vast majority of the Civil War strategy games I've played on my iPad put massive amounts of emphasis on focusing on the historical significance of the battles, units, locations, and generals included. We've also heard that these types of games have been used as teaching tools, making their removal from the App Store feel that much more reactionary.
Update 3: We now have an official Apple statement regarding the removal of the games. Specifically, Apple states that "we have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines." Sources close to the company say that it's working with the developers affected by the flag ban to get the issue resolved and get the games back on the App Store. However, the developers will have to either remove or replace the Confederate flag.
If this is indeed what Apple is demanding from the developers, it raises all kind of questions about censorship and historical memory as it literally risks rewriting history. Objectionable as it is, the existence of the Confederate flag in these Civil War games is historically accurate, and I'm not sure that any company should have the ability to mold history to its standards and beliefs.
This isn't the first time the issue of games and censorship has come up as it relates to Apple. Back in 2014 a game designer warned Tim Cook about censorship in games in an eloquent and detailed article on Tech Crunch. Alas, it seems that Tadhg Kelly's thoughtful commentary was completely ignored by Apple.
And the fact that Apple is apparently demanding that developers remove or replace the Confederate flag indicates a terrible insensitivity to the need for historical accuracy in apps and games about the Civil War. How can you have a game about the Civil War without the Confederate flag in it? To remove it is to make a blatant attempt at rewriting history, and that kind of dangerous behavior indicates an authoritarian mind-set run wild at Apple.
Apple's Orwellian censorship of the Confederate flag is a big mistake
While I suspected something like this would happen, it still shocked me to find out that Apple would engage in this kind of overt censorship of history. The company appears to have made no distinction for apps that are educational in nature and that have proven to assist teachers in educating students about the Civil War.
I think this is a terrible mistake on Apple's part. It demonstrates short-term, reactionary thinking and casts a deep chill of heavy-handed censorship over Apple's app store. This is one of those situations where the solution ends up being far worse than the problem.
I suspect that Apple is probably going to face a consumer and possibly a developer backlash against this kind of censorship. If you care to share your thoughts with Apple, you can send Tim Cook an email. I doubt it will do much good, but at least he'll know that some folks don't support this kind of censorship of history by Apple.
Will the iTunes and iBooks stores be censored next by Apple?
I'm wondering now if the iBooks store will be hit next by a mass purge of Confederate flags by Apple? It will be interesting to see if books that use the Confederate flag on their cover or that include it as an image will suddenly start disappearing from the iBooks store.
And let's not forget about the iTunes store. Currently you can get every season of the Dukes of Hazzard in the iTunes store. But how long until Apple begins a mass purge of television shows and movies that contain Confederate flags? If Apple is going to be consistent in its censorship then there's no way it can allow such material to be sold in its iTunes store.
And what about the films or TV shows that might contain content that Apple deems to be "too sympathetic" to the Confederacy? Will the company remove them too even if they don't contain images of the Confederate flag? We'll have to wait and see, but I'm not optimistic about Apple being able to control its authoritarian impulses.
Tim Cook is taking Apple down a dark and dangerous road
I think that Tim Cook has let his personal politics get the better of his judgement, and he has sent Apple spinning down into the abyss of intellectual censorship. Purging the app store of the Confederate flag may unfortunately be just the beginning of a dark period of political madness in Apple's history.
I very much hope I'm wrong about that, but Apple's heavy-handed censorship of the Confederate flag doesn't give me much confidence in the company's future commitment to intellectual freedom and historical accuracy. It may fall to Apple's board of directors to intervene and correct the company's overzealous efforts to censor what its customers can see and buy.
And it may also be time for Apple's customers to begin a boycott of Apple's app store to demonstrate to the company that they will not tolerate this kind of censorship of history. A boycott of the app store may be the only significant way to get Apple's attention and force the company to back off on its crusade against the Confederate flag, and the important period of American history that spawned the flag in the first place.
Apple's actions stand in stark contrast to the gigantic demand across the country for Confederate flag products. Big retailers like Amazon and Walmart have joined Apple in banning the Confederate flag, but smaller sites like Cooter's Place, Proud Rebel, Rebel Store, and Dixie Republic have been selling out of their merchandise as shoppers abandon the big sites and look for alternative vendors.
Apple is indeed going down a very dangerous and scary road. Where will it end?
Update: Apple has reinstated some games with the Confederate flag, but only if they do not have the flag in their app icons and screenshots.
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