Apple backpedals on Confederate flag censorship

Apple reinstates some banned games, but tries to hide the Confederate flag from screenshots and app icons

A couple of days ago I commented on Apple's ham-handed attempt at censoring the Confederate flag from the app store. The company had blithely removed all apps and games that had the Confederate flag from the app store.

But now Apple is backpedaling furiously and has reinstated some games: as long as the Confederate flag doesn't appear in the app icon or screenshots.

Carter Dotson reports for Touch Arcade:

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the Confederate flag in Civil War games since Apple pulled them yesterday, but we just got word from HexWar Studios, developers of Civil War: 1863 that these games may just be coming back after some minor changes.

Andrew Mulholland of HexWar says "basically we need to remove prominent flags from the screenshots" and "don't have them in the app icon." The Confederate flag is okay within games, but it appears that it just needs to not be prominent at all in the forward-facing parts of the App Store.

Update: According to a Facebook post by Game Labs, Ultimate General: Gettysburg is also back on the App Store once again after "several late night phone calls with Apple."

More at Touch Arcade

I can't say that I'm surprised that Apple has decided to backpedal furiously on the issue of the Confederate flag. I've been reading comments in various places on the Internet and the overwhelming majority of people seemed disgusted with Apple's heavy-handed censorship of the Confederate flag, particularly in games about the Civil War.

I have no doubt that Apple was probably inundated with angry feedback from their customers who felt that the company's behavior was simply a bridge too far. And that has probably forced the company to step back and reconsider its decision to remove so many apps and games.

Censorship silliness: Apple is still trying to hide a part of history

But where does this latest move leave us? Apparently Apple will allow the Confederate flag in historical games as long as it does not appear in the app icon or in screenshots. Am I the only one that thinks this is silly and insulting to Apple's customers? What exactly is gained by trying to hide a part of history from an app icon or a screenshot?

This is a rather embarrassing situation for Apple. It started out wielding a massive ban-hammer and now it has been forced by public opinion to try to use a scalpel instead. But the end result just leaves the company with egg on its face and makes it look petty indeed.

Take a close look at the screenshots below of the app icon for Civil War: 1862 from the Touch Arcade article.

new civil war 1862 icon

The new icon for Civil War: 1862. Note the absence of the Confederate flag.

old civil war 1862 icon

The old app icon for Civil War: 1862. Including both flags better illustrates the clash between the Union and the Confederacy.

The top (new) icon just has the American flag in the background, while the bottom (old) icon also has the Confederate flag. Does Apple really believe that hiding the Confederate flag in the new version will accomplish anything?

To me it makes the new app icon for the game look very silly. Having the two flags appear together illustrated the nature of the conflict in a visual way. But having just the American flag makes it look like some Union guy on a horse. And even worse, there are now two American flags on the icon (which is redundant, to say the least). So the entire design of the icon has been destroyed by Apple's desperate attempt to hide the Confederate flag.

Where is the sense of an impending battle between the two sides? The app icon for the game has been watered down and now doesn't even get the idea across of a battle between the Union and the Confederacy. It's not even just bad design, it's also bad marketing. Someone looking through a list of games in the app store might not even realize what the game is about based on its new icon.

This kind of thing is what happens when companies start censoring apps and games for political reasons. Even if a company backs off on it later on, they end up looking foolish and petty. And that really is the case with Apple and the Confederate flag. Apple has embarrassed itself by trying to get away with as much censorship as it could, and in the end it accomplished very little except to spoil the visual impact of app icons and screenshots.

I pointed out in my earlier post called "Apple and the Confederate flag" that the flag is a potent symbol that is interwoven with much of American history and society. It appears in music videos, TV shows, movies, books, etc. And it's not going to go away because Apple suddenly decided it wanted to pull a Stalin-like cleansing of history.

Does Tim Cook need a political chaperone?

In another post called "Tim Cook takes Apple down the dark road of censorship" I talked about how I thought Tim Cook's personal politics had affected Apple's reaction to the entire Confederate flag controversy. And I still believe that to be the case now. In his tweet about the horrible murders in South Carolina he said that we needed to remove the symbols and words that feed racism.

That's a noble sentiment and completely understandable, but also a very dangerous one for two reasons:

1. It presumes that everybody who flies the Confederate flag or otherwise likes the symbol is a racist. That is not accurate or fair since the Confederate flag means different things to different people. Viewing it solely through the prism of racism doesn't take this into account, and it's an oversimplification of contemporary American society.

And it also lets the American flag - which has its own share of racism in its history - completely off the hook. If the Confederate flag is going to be removed from app icons and screenshots, shouldn't the American flag be removed as well? Well of course not, but the American flag teaches all of us that such symbols almost always have darker aspects to their history.

2. It presumes that it is possible and wise to try to control a society enough to censor words and symbols completely. Take a look at North Korea if you want to see what happens when a society is controlled to that point. It's not a pretty picture.

So who will decide what words and symbols are acceptable in our society?

Apple is a private business and can run its app store any way it wants. But censorship in the name of righteousness is always a very dangerous game to play because no one can ever know where it will stop and what it will destroy to try to achieve its goals.

But I wonder if anybody said this to Tim and urged him to pause and consider the consequences before making any decision about removing apps and games that had the Confederate flag? Mr. Cook has been far more outspoken than the late Steve Jobs about political issues. Such outspokenness can be a good thing, but it has its downsides too if it pulls Apple into a situation where it bumbles its way into angering many of its customers.

Don't misunderstand me here. Tim Cook has every right to express his opinion about anything, and I fully support him in exercising that right (and I agree with him on a number of things such as gay marriage, the importance of racial equality, etc.). But when his personal emotions and opinions begin to directly affect what Apple does then that's when some serious problems can arise, and I think we might have seen that with the Confederate flag.

There's no doubt that Tim Cook is an excellent CEO. He stepped into a difficult situation after the death of Steve Jobs, and has brought Apple to new heights of achievement in terms of its products and revenues. But everybody has an Achilles heel, and his politics might just be Tim Cook's.

The Confederate flag is a teachable moment for Apple

All of this makes me think that perhaps the Confederate flag issue will be a learning experience for Apple. It might make the company pause and consider the ramifications of its actions before it jumps the gun and attempts to purge symbols or words that it doesn't like and wants to make go away.

I'm very glad that Apple has relented and put back some of the games and apps it took down from the app store. But it really would have been better if the company had never removed any of them in the first place. Trying to hide a symbol like the Confederate flag is truly impossible in the age of the Internet, and attempting to do so has simply turned into a fruitless and embarrassing quest for Apple.

I suspect that the company will continue to cling to its silly ban on the Confederate flag in app icons and screenshots, but doing so won't change a thing. It won't stop racism, and it won't remove the Confederate flag as an important part of American history.

Nor will it remove the flag as a part of contemporary American culture. The popularity of Confederate flag products seems to have hit an all-time high in recent days. Smaller retail sites like Cooter's Place, Proud RebelRebel Store, and Dixie Republic have been besieged by shoppers from all over the country who can no longer buy Confederate flag merchandise at retail giants like Walmart, Amazon or even Ebay.

Demand is so high for Confederate flags right now that one flag store owner was even forced to take matters into her own hands by making her own flags after her manufacturer refused to provide more flags. She sold more than 1,000 flags on the first day, and is still being flooded with orders.

In the end about all Apple has achieved with its ban of the Confederate flag is to embarrass itself, and demonstrate just how difficult and dangerous it is to go down the dark path of censorship.

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