I’m also a huge believer in free speech, no matter how repugnant, and that the open exchange of ideas among informed, thoughtful people creates a stronger society. So I thought long and hard before signing a petition asking Google to pull a dogfighting app from the Android Market. After doing so, I doubled down on my stance by tweeting about it.
I should have expected a lot of feedback, but was caught by surprise by the amount of discussion it fostered. Almost all of it was respectful and well-thought out, whether they were in agreement or disagreement with the petition and/or my positions. In the course of the discussion I found that my mind was changed on some points, and I even disagreed with some arguments made by people who agreed with my position. But I stand by my belief that Google should remove the app from the Android Market.
One thing that no one disagreed with was that real dogfighting is cruel and barbaric (and illegal in all 50 states). This includes the app developers, who state that they are “dog lovers” and that “a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue organizations”. In fact, more of the app’s descriptive text is devoted to justifying its continued appearance in the Market than on the game itself. This includes a claim that the game is “a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting”, and that the game ultimately does a valuable service to both canine and humankind. But all of the layers of doggy dip don’t disguise the disgusting truth: the game makers collect money by selling an app that glorifies and glamorizes animal cruelty.
I believe that whereas most sane people agree that indiscriminately killing people or treating them cruelly is morally wrong, animals are often not afforded the same level of consideration. Because of this, and because they can not speak out for themselves, I believe that the likelihood of people committing acts of violence or cruelty against animals is much higher, and that long exposure to a dogfighting app is more likely to result in harm to animals (especially by children, whose moral state is more likely to be maleable). No, I don’t have scientific evidence to back up all of the arguments in that position. But I’m not seeking a law against the game (which I believe should require firm evidence); I want to deny it the respectability and perceived approval that comes with its availability in the Android Market. Yes, by my reasoning it’s possible that one day I could find myself “out-voted” on the other end of a similar moral dilemma. Not a problem: I’ll fight for my point of view when it comes time. And who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll be morally bankrupt, and will deserve a good spankin’.
I’m also satisfied that this is not a free speech issue. Aside from the fact that the government isn’t involved, removing an app from the Android Market is not tantamount to “censorship” or a “ban” from the platform: the developers will still be free to make money with their Android app that glamorizes violence against dogs. One of the reasons I chose Android over competing platforms is that there are no restrictions on what you can or can’t put on your phone. Taking the app from the Market might mean it will require additional effort to download it, but that’s manageable by your average dogfighting enthusiast / 11-year-old who’s looking for an app with gameplay as gripping as Farmville’s (if many of its reviews are to be believed).
As the app vendor helpfully pointed out to me on Twitter, I am primarily making a moral argument. Upon seeing my tweets regarding their app, the anonymous developers responded that they were “Glad to hear you’ve annointed yourself the arbiter of ‘common decency’ on behalf of the universe! Our savior is here!” Their response may have been facetious, but I thanked them for recognizing my moral supremacy all the same. Because although I don’t believe in following rules dogmatically, I do believe that morals matter. Am I the Arbiter of Common Decency On Behalf of the Universe? Unlikely. I am, after all, in a band whose songs include a song about a guy relieving himself, and (FULL DISCLOSURE) another about a granny who cooks her pooch for Christmas dinner. But I do believe that if many more people hear about the petition, and an overwhelming majority agree with its position, there will be a strong moral case for Google to take the app out of the Market. So please look into it, think it through for yourself, and if you find you believe as I do, please consider signing the petition. If you don’t agree with me, that’s cool, too. Moral cases should not be easily approved, so feel free to tell me why you disagree; just keep it respectful (and be careful: I have dog on my side!) And if it turns out I’m in the tiny minority of opinion, then so be it: I’m the asshole.
But I think if anyone’s image will be tarnished (the app maker’s isn’t in the running, as they started out as a bottom-feeder), it will be Google’s. While I understand they believe the proper position is to remain neutral regarding the content of Market apps (apart from a short list of policies), I don’t imagine they want to be thought of as “Google: the company that tacitly endorses dogfighting”. As a fan and shareholder, I certainly don’t want to see that happen.
To end on a positive note, aside from reading about and possibly signing the petition, please consider visiting ASPCA’s Dog Fighting page to learn more about what’s being done to root out the practise, and Best Friends Animal Society, an amazing facility (open for visits and adoptions!) that’s home to some of the Michael Vick dogs. And if you’re moved by what you learn and are able to, please consider making a donation to one of them, or to your local animal services organization.
Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo