It is not clear whether the big brand news organizations and media companies pay attention to or care about these types of cases—after all they are not affected. They have their own direct relationships and communication channels with Apple.
But given that the big brand news companies are working hard to attract global audiences on the iPad and iPhone, and given those devices’ global popularity, what that means is that a growing segment of the global public is relying for their information and discourse about local, national, and global events on a platform that discriminates against the most controversial and vulnerable independent creators of digital media.
This reliance might be fine for the big companies, but it bodes rather ill for the future of independent, entrepreneurial journalism and therefore, I believe, for democracy.
News and media companies that do care about the future of journalism and democracy must not turn a blind eye to Apple’s arbitrary censorship. The point is not that they should avoid Apple apps and their relationships with Apple. The point is that since the law and the constitution are apparently useless against private censorship and discrimination, the only way to get Apple to operate in a democracy-compatible manner is if Apple’s customers, business partners, and investors insist on it.
It is time for the news business to remove the scales from their eyes and move on from their blind love affair with the iPad to a realistic partnership in which news companies insist that Apple manage its content platform in a manner that is compatible not only with big-media journalism but all kinds of journalism—including the types of entrepreneurial, independent, and edgy journalism that schools like this one are encouraging graduates to engage in. For this reason, it is also important that news companies not put all their eggs in the Apple basket.
News organizations should give equal priority to developing apps for other tablet computers and smartphones running on other kinds of mobile devices rather than focusing their flagship efforts primarily around Apple products.
And then there is Facebook. A growing number of news websites either require or strongly encourage users to log in with their Facebook account in order to post comments. Last year, both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal launched Facebook-based social news apps that enable people to see what news stories their friends are reading, sharing, and discussing. Facebook has been working with other news companies to develop similar apps.
The point of such collaborations is to reach new readers through existing readers’ friends’ networks and boost traffic to these companies’ content when hopefully more people click through to their news stories on the recommendation of friends and colleagues who share similar tastes, interests, and concerns. From a business perspective, it makes sense to pursue this sort of collaboration.
Facebook’s terms of service require account-holders to use their real names. When discovered, accounts using pseudonyms or fake identities are suspended or deactivated. There are still plenty of fake people on Facebook, but the more active and popular a person becomes within the network, the more likely their terms of service violations will be detected—or reported via Facebook’s abuse complaints mechanism by their enemies or others who wish them ill.
By tying their comments sections to Facebook logins—or by making it much easier and faster to comment via one’s Facebook login than having to register for a new account on the site—news organizations like the Los Angeles Times report that civility of comments threads and also cut down on considerable staff time that might otherwise be taken up vetting and moderating comments to keep out hate speech and obscenity.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg once remarked that people who do not identify themselves truthfully online “lack integrity.” There is something to the argument that anonymity is a convenient shield for people who do not want to be held responsible for hateful or outrageous speech benefit.