This is a follow-up on my Sept. 22 post, “Study Shows Social Media Censor Conservatives-Christians“.
Father John Flynn, LC, writes for Zenit, Oct 2, 2011, on how social media sites such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter censor Christians, as detailed in a report commissioned by the Virginia-based National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators according to a description of its mission on its Web site.
The report, “True Liberty in a New Media Age: An Examination of the Threat of Anti-Christian Censorship and Other Viewpoint Discrimination on New Media Platforms,” concludes that “Christian ideas and other religious content face a clear and present danger of censorship on Web-based communication platforms.”
The study revealed a number of ways in which the policies of the new media giants affected religion.
On two occasions Apple has blocked Christian apps on the iTunes App Store due to the religious content:
- In November of 2010, Apple revoked its approval of the Manhattan Declaration App. This declaration was a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage, the sanctity of life and religious liberty. The reason given was that one of the points in the declaration was that homosexual conduct is immoral and this, in Apple’s view, was offensive.
- In March 2011, Apple also censored the app for Exodus International, a Christian ministry that helps people to leave the homosexual lifestyle. Once again Apple declared that this was offensive and violated its guidelines.
Then, in July 2011, Apple pulled iTunes out of the Christian Values Network, a portal that contributes funds to charities. The report said that this action was caused by complaints that some of the charities had policies critical of homosexual rights initiatives.
In fact, the only apps that Apple has blocked due to the views expressed in them are ones that reflect Christian views. In general, the NRB report finds Apple to have a two-faced policy on content. When it comes to satire, humor or political commentary the norms are quite different, giving wide latitude to content. But Apple’s guidelines on religion define content should be prohibited if it is “offensive, mean-spirited” or if it contains material that has “abuse,” or is “inappropriate” or “unacceptable.” Using such fuzzy terms means that Apple has very wide discretion to determine which religious ideas they prefer and which they will censor, the report pointed out.
There is no doubt, the report concludes, that Apple’s policies on religious content would be found “extraordinarily wanting” if they were matched up against the standards for free speech that the Supreme Court has established under the First Amendment.
Scott Cleland, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Information and Communication Policy, has stated that “Google rejects traditional Judeo-Christian values.”
Indeed, Google refused to place a Christian pro-life advertisement from the Christian Institute on its search engine, on the grounds that Google’s “policy did not permit the advertisement of Web sites that contain abortion and religion-related content.” The Christian Institute took Google to court and as a result the ad was allowed and Google changed its policy to allow ads on abortion from religious groups so long as they are framed in a factual way. Google’s policy is still, however, to block any ad on abortion that contains the phrase “abortion is murder,” as this is deemed to be “gruesome.”
Another problem outlined by the report related to Google’s guidelines for its Web tools available for non-profit groups. The free or discounted use of these tools is not allowed for churches, faith groups, or organizations that take religion or sexual orientation into account in hiring employees. According to the report Christian churches who have applied to Google for non-profit status are being rejected.
Google also blocks advertising content that is critical of groups for their religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, thereby eliminating ads by Christian pro-family groups that oppose what some homosexual advocacy groups are doing to promote the legalization of same-sex marriage. It also means that criticism of other religions or sects as being theologically wrong would violate Google’s policy.
A further case involving Google was related to a Norwegian site that contained criticism of Scientology. Lawyers representing Scientology protested to Google that the site contained copyrighted content. As a result the pages of the critical site were removed from Google’s index. But there are a number of Christian groups that expose religious movements for their lack of fidelity to the Bible. In order to do so they need to quote from the original sources. Copyright law allows the fair use of material for reporting and criticism, so Google’s approach could unjustly block legitimate Christian groups from engaging in criticism of what they consider to be false teachings.
Google also showed itself willing, during the time it operated in China through a local version of its Web site, to cooperate with the government in blacklisting words from its search engine relating to the Falun Gong religious group and the Dalai Lama.
Facebook has a policy of erasing anti-homosexual comments from its site and has partnerships with some organizations that promote the homosexual agenda. As an example, Facebook removed a posting of a photo of two men kissing. This decision was quickly reversed and Facebook made an apology. By contrast in other cases of photos involving sexual depictions unrelated to homosexuality the material has been permanently removed.
Facebook also has a “hate speech” language policy that prohibits “Inflammatory religious content; Politically religious agendas.”
There are similar problems with other new media organizations, such as MySpace, which also has very broad and ill-defined policies when it comes to hate speech and homosexuality. The Internet service providers Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon also violate free speech and their rules would allow censorship of Christian content, according to the report.