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Sunday, 06 April 2014 20:51

Brendan Eich, I protest! On your behalf Featured

Brendan Eich, I protest! On your behalf

I find I can no longer hold my tongue. The forced resignation from his post at Mozilla of CEO Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript and co-founder of Firefox, for his views on gay marriage, goes beyond an affront to the freedom of speech. It is a downright assault on the freedom of thought.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Eich, an internet legend who pioneered the web browser market, donated $1,000 of his own money to a successful campaign against the legal recognition of gay marriage in the state of California back in 2008. For that, this pioneer of the medium, which carries these words, has been forced to resign from his job at the helm of the organisation he helped to create.

I know that I’m probably going to cop a lot of flack for this article anyway, but let’s get a few things straight from the outset. This story is not about gay marriage. I do not seek to offer any opinion whatsoever on the subject.  What this article is about is freedom. The freedom to say what I like, the freedom to vote which ever way I like, and, above all, the freedom to think what the hell I like.

In the case of Brendan Eich, who as far as I know has not previously made headlines as a particularly vocal proponent of any controversial viewpoint, at least two of his three basic freedoms of expression have been severely violated.

Back in 2008, Eich donated some personal funds to a cause he supported, which happened to be opposition to giving legal status to gay marriage. Yes, he did mention that he was an employee of Mozilla but so what? In 2013, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed her and the Australian Labor Party’s policy that marriage was a legal and social contract between a man and a woman – not between same sex couples. Should this view preclude Ms Gillard from ever holding a position of significance in the workforce or public life again?

What is particularly worrying for me about this episode is the absence of outrage that I’m witnessing in the wider community. A person who happened to donate personal funds to a political cause he believed in six years ago – what’s more, a cause that had majority support in his community – has been forced to step down from a post he richly deserves today because of his political and social beliefs.

According to our previous story on iTWire and many other articles, dating site OKCupid, many of whose customers are gay (please correct me if that’s wrong), led the charge against Eich’s views by threatening to block all access to its site from Firefox browsers unless he resigned. The acquiescence by Mozilla to this sort of overt blackmail was both disturbing and disgusting.

Even more sickening was the statement by Mozilla Foundation chairperson, Winifred Mitchell Baker:

"Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.

"Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community. Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard."

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech?! Is Ms Baker, a lawyer, kidding? How did Mr Eich’s personal action of 2008 of donating his own money to a successful political cause compromise the equality of anybody? Everybody had the right to vote, didn’t they? Is allowing his right to donate to a successful political campaign worse than denying his US Constitutional First Amendment right to freedom of speech? What sort of inverted world are we now living in?

Message to Winifred Mitchell Baker: Equality and free speech are two sides of the same coin! There cannot be any inconsistency between the two. The minute you deny one, then you deny the other.

I have long been a Firefox (and before that Netscape) user, since the early days of the web. It’s my favourite browser. Without web pioneers like Brendan Eich, Mosaic, Mozilla, Netscape, Firefox and all the other copycat browsers that followed, may never have come into being in their present form.

Perhaps the time has come to look elsewhere for a different browser, although sadly I fear that wherever I look the reaction at the top to the same sort of pressure would be similar. It has nothing to do with principles, morals, values or gay rights. For the organisations that succumb to this sort of tactic, the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.





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