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January 31, 2014

Religious debate and the app store wars, Part II

At first glance, the original rules written to govern the Apple App Store seem to be simple, logical and easy to enforce.

After all, who wants one of the world' most powerful corporations to circulate digital forms of hate? Consider, for example, the guidelines governing "personal attacks" and "objectionable content."

The former rejects, "Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm's way." This does not apply to humorists and satirists, of course. The "objectionable content" rule forbids "apps that are primarily designed to upset or disgust users."

The section on "religion, culture, and ethnicity" offers another variation on this theme, stating: "Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected."

The problem, of course, is that apps that gladden the hearts of gay mainline Protestants, Reform Jews and other doctrinal liberals will be deeply offensive to Southern Baptists, Orthodox Jews and other conservatives -- and vice versa. And one person's evangelism app may, by its very existence, be seen by those in other faiths as a tool for spiritual violence.

The bottom line: It's hard to produce products built on religious doctrine without offending someone. So do Apple leaders ban all of them or listen only to the religious voices they find the most sympathetic?

In recent years, media leaders have "increasingly bought into the idea of minimizing content that they view as potentially offensive," said Quentin Schultze of Calvin College, a media scholar who has been studying online religion for two decades.

"The larger and more influential the media outlets, the more likely they are to want to take the edges off, because they have the most to lose. ... It's the unique, unusual minority points of view that will keep getting clipped off, of course."

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