Apple Comes Under Fire for "Gay Cure" App

Apple's recent approval of an anti-gay App has created a stir from gay rights activists, and it raises inmportant questions not only for Apple but also for social media corporations and social media as a medium.

Can an App be offensive? What about dangerous? From finding a restaurant to playing a video game, most Apps are pretty innocuous, but sometimes, one comes along that challenges the way we think about social media. Apple’s recent approval of an anti-gay App has created a stir from gay rights activists, and it raises inmportant questions not only for Apple but also for social media corporations and social media users.

The Ex-Gay App, available on iPhone and iPad, was launched by Exodus International, a pro-Christian group that promotes the “ex-gay” movement. This movement, as its title suggests, encourages people to change their sexuality. According to the Exodus website, the App encourages “”freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus”, and it was approved by Apple as being a 4+ App, meaning it contains “no objectionable content”.

Truth Wins Out, a not for profit organization that defends the LGBTQQ community, has started a petition, encouraging people to sign and demand that Apple remove the App. John Becker, Director of Communications and Development notes: “Apple doesn’t allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its store, yet it gives the green light to an app written by an anti-gay extremist group that targets vulnerable sexual-minority youth with the message that they are ‘sinful’ and ‘perverse,’

So far, more than 80, 000 people have signed a petition against the “gay cure” App, and various groups are threatening to march on Apple’s offices if action isn’t taken.

Several questions are raised by this App, and the first is: how did it get approved, and what was the agenda behind the approval? While Apple approving the App is likely a comment on the current social and economic climate in the United States, in which, groups like Exodus hold financial and political clout, it’s difficult to imagine Apple didn’t anticipate this controversy. Did they really deem the material “in-offensive” or did both Apple and Exodus anticipate the controversy and see it as being good for business?

In the case of Exodus, the latter is almost definitely true. By releasing the App, they have gained worldwide media coverage of their organization and its goals. A user commenting on the App states: “I hope at least this controversy is drawing more people to the Exodus website and its resources”. This proves that no matter what action Apple takes in regards to the controversy over the App, Exodus has, at least to a certain degree, come out ahead. One the other hand, one wonders what Apple will get out of releasing the App? As stated by Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall: “Apple might consider thinking about their customer base and the penchant many lesbian and gay people have for ethical consumerism when endorsing an offensive app like this.”

However, a larger and more complex issue is at the heart of this controversy: social media and freedom of speech versus hate speech. Social media is about connecting people, and there are some networks and services that provide connections many of us would find upsetting or offensive. At what point, if any, do social media providers have the responsibility to step in and decide what’s offensive or harmful and what’s not?