Supporters of gay rights are celebrating a successful effort to pressure Apple into removing from its store a controversial app created by a group that works to “free” gay people of their sexual orientation. After more than 140,000 people signed a petition at Change.org calling for the app, created by Exodus International, to be removed, Apple bowed to the wisdom of the crowd...As a speech gatekeeper, Apple should embrace free-speech values and go with viewpoint neutrality. It has made a terrible, embarrassing mistake, both because it is wrong to censor and because it will now have a hell of a time deciding which pressure groups to respond to and what counts as offensive enough to censor.
In other words, something is objectionable if enough people object to it. If that’s going to be the standard, Apple is going to be seeing a lot more petitions. You can be sure the religious conservatives who found themselves on the losing end of this culture-war skirmish have been taking notes, and are already at work drawing up a list of all the gay-themed apps in the app store that are offensive to their beliefs. What will Apple say the day it gets a petition with 140,001 signatures calling for banning Grindr, an app popular with gay men looking for a quick hit of romance?
If your fingers are itching to type out the news that the constitutional right to free speech only protects you from government censorship, settle down. Free speech values extend beyond what you can get a court to enforce. I am arguing directly to Apple, as a matter of good policy and good values. Obviously, Apple cares about good values and responds, in its conception of good policy, when it is persuaded by arguments about good policy and good values: That's why it engaged in censorship! I'm arguing on the other side of the Change.org petition.