Apple, along with Amazon and Google, effectively kicked Parler off the internet in the wake of the January 6 US Capitol siege. Despite criticism that Big Tech wields too much power over speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his decision.
“We looked at the incitement to violence that was on there,” Cook told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We don’t consider that free speech and incitement to violence has an intersection.”
Parler, the alternative social network popular with conservatives, had been surging in popularity in recent months. But the platform failed to rein in hate-filled, violent speech, which Big Tech companies said could lead to another violent attack. Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) booted Parler off their app stores and Amazon (AMZN) stopped hosting the service.
The ability to stop billions of people from easily accessing a social network is a weighty responsibility – one that critics of all political persuasions have argued does not belong in the hands of a select few millionaires and billionaires running the world’s largest companies. Some critics of Apple and its cohort’s decisions to ban Parler have argued that pushing the app out of the mainstream will drive participants to dark channels of the internet – and potentially deeper down the rabbit hole of radicalization.
But Cook disputed that it’s Apple’s job to host every service, regardless of its content. He noted that Apple has terms of service for the 2 million apps its hosts, and apps that refuse to play by the rules aren’t allowed to access Apple’s massive audience.
“We obviously don’t control what’s on the internet, but we’ve never viewed that our platform should be a simple replication of what’s on the internet,” Cook said.
Apple will welcome back Parler – provided Parler finds a new cloud provider to host the social network – if the app effectively moderates users’ speech, said the Apple CEO.
“We’ve only suspended them,” Cook noted. “If they get their moderation together they would be back on there.”
Apple’s CEO has criticized other tech companies for lacking ideals – including sacrificing users’ privacy by chasing profit. But Apple, the world’s most valuable company, has to tread lightly. Its substantial size and power mean any controversial move can get under the skin of regulators that have sued other Big Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, for violating antitrust law. Forcing other companies to bend to its will isn’t going to make Apple’s argument easier if it finds itself under scrutiny for allegedly abusing monopoly power.
Still, Cook argued Sunday that running a tech company is about more than making big bucks. He said Sunday that he believes Apple’s mission should be to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. The company and its employees are always trying to do the right thing – a mission that motivates him to come to work each morning.
That helped influence his decision about Parler – particularly in the wake of the Capitol siege.
“It was one of the saddest moments of my life – seeing an attack on our Capitol and an attack on our democracy,” Cook said. “I felt like I was in some sort of alternate reality, to be honest with you. This could not be happening.”