Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

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

from the historical-relevancy dept

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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Filed Under: confederate flags, content moderation, games, history, racism
Companies: apple


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Brainy Smurf, 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:30pm

    Communists in China murdered 70 MILLION! Yet Apple LOVES China.

    Most of their products are made there, and with direct approval / permission of the same Communist gov't.

    Where does that fit into Apple's or your stance on "moderation", Maz? 70 million people murdered can be ignored vs mere image of a flag requires action? Is that "moderation" or political game-playing?

    [To forestall you kids, I despised the REBEL "Confederate" flag LONG before you did. Confederate leaders should have all been HUNG, land and money distributed to former slaves. However, is a fair point that would have been more bloodshed if so, and in any event, it's unchangeable HISTORY that I had and have no say in. So don't go berserker, off-topic besides baselessly blame me. Just answer the question: 70 million Chinese murdered don't bother Apple or Maz, but flags do?]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Brainy Smurf, 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:34pm

    Oh, now it's "Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute"?

    It was a "sister organization" for a while, now it's a subsidiary? -- And of course, it's just YOU, Maz, with a little funding by Silicon Valley to pay for propaganda.

    https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

    You're a month short of two years since last "white paper" on November 14, 2018. Whataya do with your spare time, Maz? Watch Netflix?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Brainy Smurf, 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Oh, now it's "Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institut

    Browser session was blocked, but "Resend" worked. That's another hidden tactic of Techdirt: an Administrator poisons (probably by blocking IPA) my sessions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:38pm

    Stop using Tor to get around your mental health clinic’s IP block on Techdirt and maybe you’ll be that much better off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:43pm

    The only flag they ever flew that had value

    While I can see value in historical accuracy so long as it's not being used to glorify a bunch of racist losers if they really want to use a confederate flag but not worry about offending people they could always go with the only confederate flag that actually mattered and had any value to it, that being the pure white one they were flying at the end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2020 @ 4:58pm

    Re: The only flag they ever flew that had value

    Yeah, about that.
    historically-accurate games.

    The popular "stars and bars" was one minor flag out of many that were used. Historical accuracy, that one flag by itself, is not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 16 Oct 2020 @ 5:30pm

    Germany and Games with Historical Nazis

    I did a bunch of graphic design work for some spreadsheet wargames (the kind with hexes and insane logistics charts) about Europe and Africa theaters of WWII.

    Germany circa 1990s really didn't like swastikas or the red-white and black Nazi Flag so one of my jobs was to create a pseudo flag using the Wehrmacht cross in the place of the swastika. Then I had to do a similar swap-out / redesign of regimental flags and symbols throughout the game. It was doable, but WWII enthusiast grognards really liked their flags (and medals, and uniforms) and could get a bit crazy about it.

    The company did an early version of de-censoring used in modern porn games in providing a censor patch and de-censor patch so that individual players could choose what their unit regalia looked like. That way, players in Germany could choose whether or not they wanted to sidestep the law.

    These days, I think Germany is a bit more relaxed about games that are sufficiently historical. They probably wouldn't raise a fuss regarding a war game following Rommel's desert campaign at a turn-based strategic level.

    The gray zone would probably be in games like Wolfenstein: The New Order which depicts an alternative timeline. In fact I wonder how The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon TV Series is getting their German distro past the censors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2020 @ 7:19pm

    Re: The only flag they ever flew that had value

    the only confederate flag that actually mattered and had any value to it

    So, much like "the only French flag that actually mattered", then? Such a broad statement is breathtaking.

    On the other hand, some of the flags of the CSA did have a large proportion of white on then. Not "surrender flags". Serious flags that you'd find soldiers and citizens under.

    And to the (other) AC's contention that

    The popular "stars and bars" was one minor flag out of many that were used.

    I recommend you re-read the wikipedia page (link above). You are probably thinking of the CSA battle flags, which are the flags with the white stars on a blue (or red) diagonal cross, on a red (or blue) background. The battle flags, of course, were the ones carried by army divisions, and thus seen most often by soldiers on both sides. And being carried in battle means that their appearance in war simulation games means they are not insignificant. (And if you truly mean the "stars and bars flag", well... that's probably not the one that Apple is finding most objectionable.)

    And even there, I will point out that the battle flag is represented on most of the CSA national and naval flags. Would you care to place odds on Apple taking care about the subtlety of a CSA national flag over a CSA battle flag?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    PaulT (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 12:22am

    Re: Re: Oh, now it's "Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Inst

    "an Administrator poisons (probably by blocking IPA) my sessions"

    By "administrator", you mean "automated spam filter" and by sessions you mean "flooding the site with random nonsense that looks like spam"? Indeed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2020 @ 12:26am

    No one gives a fuck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 1:19am

    Re: Re: The only flag they ever flew that had value

    So, much like "the only French flag that actually mattered", then? Such a broad statement is breathtaking.

    I wasn't aware that france engaged in a civil war so that they could continue to engage in the barbaric practice of slavery, something which would make that an apt comparison, must have missed that in the history books somehow.

    When a country or group, france or otherwise, engages in a blatantly bigotry-based war against their own government so that they can continue to practice an atrocity they deserve no respect, no honor, only contempt and derision, and as such I have no problem standing by the idea that the only flag the confederates ever flew that had any value whatsoever beyond purely historical concerns of the 'this is what happened at this time' sort was the flag of surrender, because the rest of them were symbols of a government and people engaged in a war dedicated to defending an atrocity so they could continue to engage in it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 1:27am

    'How was I supposed to know that would hurt again?!'

    It's like watching someone shoot their own foot and then whine about the blood and pain, blaming someone else for both even while they still have the smoking gun in their hand and despite the fact that they've done the same thing numerous times in the past with the same results.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 3:22am

    And yet, you came back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 4:06am

    Re:

    I'll never understand the trolls who come here to say "This site sucks!" in spite of them, you know, coming here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2020 @ 8:36am

    Apple blocks 'offensive' images.

    what about the Apple logo? thats offensive to me.

    it's a company that actively uses unpaid forced slave labor, encourages the murder of anyone trying to unionize or complain.

    And unless you want to get your families legs broken or be thrown from a roof under direct orders from the Apple CEO, you better be a good little slave and do your work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Vic, 17 Oct 2020 @ 11:18am

    RE: offensive flags

    And another question to Apple: when are finally going to remove Wikipedia from the Apple Store? There are lots of offending flags there too (including all kinds of Confederate ones)!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Rocky, 17 Oct 2020 @ 1:37pm

    Re: RE: offensive flags

    Two things:

    • Never expect consistency in moderation.
    • Context matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Shel10 (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 2:58pm

    Content Moderation is a bullshit term

    Why don't we just take our civil war out of all the history book and assume all was peaceful here between 1861 and 1865. Burn all of the history books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Oct 2020 @ 3:20pm

    Content Moderation ≠ Major history revisionism

    Because there really are things that need to be moderated. Feel free to visit 4chan/b to see some of the cruelty and gore that happens in the world (and is recorded), and note that even /b is moderated.

    Also, moderation is not simply a banhammer. As per the abusive/trolling/spam flag used here on TechDirt, moderation is about erecting gates and warning about user content, from things that are emotionally disturbing, that might be triggering to certain people, that is blasphemous, that is not safe for work, that is particularly violent or gory.

    No one wants to see someone smashing kittens or puppies, and yet, Facebook routinely has to take down material like that or just as awful.

    So yes, we want content moderation. We also want content moderation that doesn't over obstruct. As appropriate as it might be to take down violent war footage or terror executions, it's not appropriate for facebook to block breastfeeding mothers or The Little Mermaid because brass boobies are offensive to some.

    Personally, I'd like to see nothing censored, and everything that might be offensive put behind an I know the risks click gate with a descriptive warning about what's behind it, so I know what I'm choosing to look at or not before I look at it.

    But this assumes the world is full of adults (and children learning to become adults) who are self-aware enough not to click things that say don't -- this is super disturbing. Maybe if we had a couple of BLIT basilisks to teach brave fools to learn more caution.

    We don't live in a world of adults, and as such we can't always have nice things.

    But it also means we live with a content moderation paradox. Neither the first nor last conundrum to confound human society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2020 @ 8:43pm

    Re:

    I despised the REBEL "Confederate" flag LONG before you did

    Nobody believes you, ignorant motherfucker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2020 @ 2:16am

    Re: RE: offensive flags

    So, you're saying that all history of World War 2 should be scrubbed from the internet because people find modern day usage of the swastika flag unacceptable? Weird flex, but ok...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2020 @ 2:18am

    Re: Re:

    It's great isn't it? They drive more traffic and revenue to the site than would have happened if they stayed silent, and say nothing more than "I'm an idiot, ignore me"In the process..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2020 @ 7:42am

    Re: Content Moderation is a bullshit term

    "Why don't we just take our civil war out of all the history book "

    Because:
    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    afaik, the only people who want to delete history are the ones presently remembered for their bad acts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Shel10 (profile), 18 Oct 2020 @ 2:22pm

    The problem is that they need to be taught about the past. Eliminating symbols doesn't help to show what happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Shel10 (profile), 18 Oct 2020 @ 2:24pm

    Re: Re: Content Moderation is a bullshit term

    You make a good point. It's the Antifa and BLM that want to take out the symbols, so they must feel guilty about what they are doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2020 @ 2:12am

    Re:

    How's that Richard Liebowitz campaign fund coming along, antidirt?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Oct 2020 @ 5:33am

    It's the Antifa and BLM that want to take out the symbols, so they must feel guilty about what they are doing.

    What possible reason could they have for feeling guilty over a flag that represents a failed nation-state formed by states that betrayed and seceded from the United States in a desperate bid to preserve the institution of slavery and is associated with racist White conservatives and the South far more than it will ever be associated with “leftism”/antifascism/the Movement for Black Lives?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Oct 2020 @ 5:35am

    Eliminating symbols doesn't help to show what happened.

    Celebrating symbols that represent slavery and the defense thereof doesn’t do that, either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2020 @ 7:34am

    Re:

    This has long been a question Germany has struggled with; is it celebratory to make games where Nazism is present, even if they're presented as the antagonists? Does negative imagery still count as celebratory?

    Of course, civil war strategy games for the US are more troubling in the sense that very often both sides are presented as equals, with the player able to select either side. Is this acceptable because it's meant to be a historical representation? Or is this unacceptable because the player is never supposed to play as the losing side (the one in this case fighting to preserve slavery in the United States)? If it's unacceptable because it risks glorifying the confederate side, what about civil war reenactment?

    The reality is the United States has not faced this issue the way Germany has, and so the problem is one that's festered for quite some time. Nazis were long seen as acceptable enemies in popular media and thus many games and WWII themed movies used them as stock bad guys. They were seen as a way of keeping the "remember Nazis are bad" thing alive, whereas the civil war never was remembered in the same light, with many people fondly (and incorrectly) believing the confederates were merely fighting over "states' rights" (this is only true in the sense that they were fighting for the right to own slaves).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Oct 2020 @ 8:14am

    Is this acceptable because it's meant to be a historical representation?

    If limited strictly to the military battles of the war? I believe it is questionable, but still “acceptable”. (For the record: I played North vs. South when I was a kid.) If it encompasses everything that happened during the war outside of the actual war — including slavery? I’d have far graver reservations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Oct 2020 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Content Moderation is a bullshit term

    Antifa has no opinions about symbols, though as an unofficial Antifa spokesperson, we don't mind symbols when they represent the historical atrocities done under them (or in the case of the modern Confederate flag, done by their heritage, albeit under a different flag.)

    The thing is the Second Confederate Navy Jack flag is in the 21st century a symbol of oppression, and is used as a reminder to non-whites in states that fly it that they are not well liked. And this remains the case no matter what apologists say.

    And this gets into the meat of what Black Bloc groups are all about.

    If you're scared of the social unrest menace, stop treating citizens like unpersons. It's really that simple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Oct 2020 @ 1:37pm

    From a graphic design perspective

    There are a lot more options for historical games, given the modern confederate flag wasn't used by the CSA during the civil war except as a navy flag. I'd look at using the blood stained flag (which does feature the Navy Jack, but as part of it, much like the old Mississippi flag).

    Flying the Navy Jack in a Civil War game would be kind of like flying the Union Jack on British ships during an age-of-sail game. Grognards would find it weird and would question the veracity of the game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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