What is Freedom of Speech, are there any limits, and does companies like Apple infringe it?
There is, as far as I’m aware, two viewpoints on the subject. The first one is that you’re allowed to say or publish anything without being censored or moderated by the government, while the second viewpoint states that it’s the ability to say or publish anything without having any censor, moderation or penalties at all.
Unfortunately for Apple, a lot of people are using the second way of thinking. Since the launch of their App Store they are moderating what apps are allowed and which are not, and some see this as Apple limiting their Freedom of Speech. Now, an app – i.e. game – might not be that big of a deal, but as if turns out, Apple gave a no-go for a Danish newspaper-app because it featured some nude content. Is this an infringement of Freedom of Speech?
Some people clam it is, since they’re limiting a newspaper from publishing news, opinions and information to the public. This is indeed censoring content, and would normally be against freedom of speech – but I don’t agree. Let me explain why.
If I open a store for furniture, and some company want to sell a couch with a swastika symbol on it in my store, and I decline the offer – am I then against freedom of speech? What if I have a supermarket and refuse to sell one of the many available newspapers because it doesn’t appeal to me – am I then against freedom of speech?
The App Store is a store owned and maintained by Apple, ergo they can allow or disallow any products to be published. It’s not “censoring” in my opinion, it’s selecting what they want to have in their store. They do however offer developers a solution to get their app in the store, by censoring their content – which is like a furniture store asking to censor out a swastika in order to sell a couch.
I believe that free speech is important, but that does not magically grant individuals the right to have every single channel of communication available at their disposal. If I write an article about how I think the world should be and a newspaper refuses to publish it they aren’t automatically against freedom of speech. Free speech is about being free to express whatever you want without the government trying to censor you or telling you what’s right and what’s wrong.
If free speech means no limits in any form, then it cannot exist. One example would be what to reply to the question “Does this dress make me look fat?”. It’s a rhetorical question because you can’t answer “yes” since it’ll make you look like an asshole and she might break up with you. Services such as YouTube and Facebook would also be against free speech since it can ban you from its services if you publish whatever you want.
One could argue that you have the ability to say whatever you want, and that is true free speech, even though the consequences might be harsh. With this way of thinking, Apple does indeed infringe freedom of speech, but so would every other store, newspaper and all forms of communication and distribution that moderates content.
As a last thought, for you who read this post, can’t the action of NOT publishing something be seen as a form of communication? I mean, you cannot not communicate – since not saying anything is still a form of communication (being silent). Therefore one could argue that by enforcing total free speech, we would infringe the right that companies have to express themselves.