Home > "Liberal" Media, GOP & The Election, iPhone, Political Game-Playing, Right-Wing Lies > Using the iPhone App Store as a Campaign Tool

Using the iPhone App Store as a Campaign Tool

May 25th, 2010

During the 2008 election, Obama used an iPhone app to help spread his message, raise money, and generally help win him the election, as part of a much broader Internet campaign strategy. Since then, many politicians and parties have published their own apps on the App Store, left- and right-wing alike.

Ari David, the Republican challenger to Henry Waxman in California’s 30th District (Malibu, Beverly Hills, & Santa Monica), is trying to win himself some free publicity by violating Apple’s App Store policy and then crying over how he’s being denied “free speech.”

Apple’s policy on this is:

3.3.12 Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.

One may presume that Apple would rather avoid being held culpable in libel suits, or perhaps, in the same vein as keeping porn off its mobile devices, just wants as nice and calm a playground as they can manage. There is nothing at all keeping David or anyone else from publishing positive statements about their own records, but when you start smearing an opponent, Apple steps in and tells you to take it elsewhere.

Waxman claims that Apple singled out specific statements as being defamatory, and lists them. Included in the listing are allegations that Waxman “would have brought us $7 a gallon gas and … would make electricity rates ‘necessarily sky rocket.’” … “would severely hurt seniors” … “jeopardized the US and Israel” … and “TRIED TO STRANGLE family farms with insane Soviet-Style regulation.”

Yeah, that’s not defamatory.

Now, we can debate whether Apple can and/or should have such a policy, but one thing here is pretty clear: David is just using this as political fuel. Sure, maybe he was just clueless and figured that a vehement attack app would get approved. But I think it is much more likely that the entire app idea itself is a ploy to get free publicity, and make David out to be that favorite of favorites for right-wingers: the victim.

Here’s how I see it happening. At a session among his staff to see how they can get some good, free press, someone brings up the App Store policy. Political cartoonist Mark Fiore had his political cartoon app initially denied under the same policy, but after a good deal of controversy, Apple reversed itself and let it go through. Apple has a history of relenting when put under pressure. So somebody on David’s strategy team gets the idea of making an iPhone app intentionally designed to trigger the policy–enough so that it gets stopped, but not enough to look completely outrageous. When Apple inevitably rejects the app, David’s campaign goes all over the media shouting about how Apple is censoring their speech and denying them their First Amendment rights.

Right there, they have a winner: they (1) get free publicity, (2) get to play the victim, and (3) get their attacks printed free. There is zero chance that no one will listen to a story like that–at the very least, Fox will cover it, and likely other networks will follow. It’s sure to get on the local news. David’s campaign can’t lose.

They add another dimension, though: they insinuate that Apple is secretly a liberal bastion which allows Democrats to bash Republicans, but not the other way around. They try to build up an image of Apple as being populated with liberal elitists working for Democrats:

… Apple is now making an in-kind contribution to Henry Waxman by denying his competitor a modern tool for political communication. They are stifling my right to free political speech and they are carrying water for the Obama administration … Apple pulled all of their advertising from the Fox News channel … Clearly people who work at Apple are likely to be the kind of creative people who may tend to vote Democrat and hold liberal views, but this goes far beyond that. This experience with Apple clearly shows that there is a political agenda going on within the culture of the company, and business decisions are subject to Apple’s political views. … it would be interesting to see what iPhone apps Apple has approved for Democrats in which negative statements about Republicans are made, and what standard Apple has held those statements to before approval.

Never mind that Apple would reject any app with attacks like this integrated into it, Democratic or Republican. Never mind that Apple pulled its ads from Fox because Glenn Beck told people not to go to church if they heard certain words spoken there–as did dozens of other advertisers. (I guess that Geico, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Bank of America, General Mills, Mercedes Benz, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagon, UPS, and Radio Shack are also in on the conspiracy.) No, forget that the claims are specious and self-serving.

This goes hand-in-hand with playing the victim card–you get double the juice if you can show that you are being crushed under the heel of liberals, with Apple being transmogrified into a Silicon Valley version of the Liberal Media™.

Beyond the hopes that this story catches fire, David’s campaign undoubtedly hopes to get Apple to eventually succumb to pressure. The MSM usually caves in almost immediately when charged with being liberal, and since Apple is known to not act on such rejections until a lot of pressure is applied, the David campaign is probably hoping for the story to be out there long enough to be milked–and then the icing on the cake would be for Apple to cave and allow the app. David is trying to compound that win for himself by asserting that all of his statements are “factual” and therefore not defamatory, presumably so that if Apple succumbs to pressure and allows his app, it will appear like Apple is admitting that his statements are factual.

As for David’s final swipe that Apple probably lets Dems bash GOPers while denying right-wingers the same freedom, just do a search for “GOP,” “liberal”, “conservative,” etc. on the iPhone App Store and you’ll see that this is a baseless charge. There are a lot more right-wing apps than left-wing ones, and a lot of the right-wing ones tend to get pretty nasty–though they do not defame specific individuals within the integrated app data, the act which runs afoul of Apple’s policy.

Interestingly, try to search for “Republican” and you get a hundred apps (the limit for a search), most of them being pro-right and/or anti-left; search for “Democratic” and you get 14 apps, only a few left-wing; a search for “Democrat” scores more–88 apps–but not many are left-wing apps.

I found a few Democratic congressional campaign apps, but they were completely inoffensive. Mike Oliverio’s (D-WV) app is just a poster showing a debt clock and a link to his site. Alan Mollohan’s (also D-WV) app includes a calendar of events and a bio, but is just as inoffensive. Felton Newell has a much more sophisticated app helping him run for CA-33, a Democratic safe seat, and that app also is positive only.

Republican Chris Cox, trying out for New York’s 1st District, is a Republican; his app allows you to read a short bio, donate to his campaign, and has a little game where you catch money “leaking out of the White House”–not really hardball, but it is a negative swipe at Obama rather than a positive statement about himself. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) has an app with news and pages for volunteering and contributing (though she recently announced that she’s retiring). And Bob Latta (R-OH) has an app with mostly just links and contacts–but also a News section, in which he–guess what–attacks Democrats, accusing them of various evil-sounding misdeeds.

Those were the first three Democratic and Republican politicians I found with iPhone apps–all Dems were only positive, two of the Republicans were critical of Democrats. So much for Apple as a liberal wing of the Democratic party stifling Republicans while allow Democrats to savage right-wingers without restraint. (In fact, Al Ramirez, a Republican running for Senate in California, has his own app–and he set up residency in Ari David’s district to run for office.)

But here’s the real tell concerning Ari David: you can get political attacks into your iPhone app. Just either make the attacks general (against a party, for example), or include a News section which you can later fill with feeds of political attacks. Either that, or build a web app for the iPhone, which is not subject to Apple’s approval.

In short, David’s insinuations about Apple are patently false, right-wingers seem to be more numerous and negative in their political apps, and David could have easily have made an app which allowed him to smear Democrats and probably even Waxman–but he was either stupid, or more likely, geared his app with the intention of getting it rejected.

Again, we can debate whether Apple should have this policy at all–but whatever the outcome of that argument, Ari David is probably just another whining, conniving smear artist hoping to get his fifteen minutes.

Comments are closed.