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Monday, 07 April 2014 10:52

Brendan Eich's ouster shows lynch mob at work Featured

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Two of the communities that lay claim to being among the most tolerant and inclusive have shown intolerance of a very high order, acting like a lynch mob to ensure that a top technologist was forced to leave his job as chief executive of a well-known software group.

Brendan Eich was forced to quit on April 3 as CEO of Mozilla, the group that creates the Firefox browser. His sin? He had donated $US1000 to Proposition 8, a California move to define marriage as being between a man and woman, in 2008.

The dating site OkCupid was in the forefront of the campaign, blocking Firefox users from its site and suggesting they use another browser. It caters to users of all sexual orientations.

OkCupid, however, appears to have variable ethics. Its co-founder, Sam Yagan, gave money to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008, a sum of $US500.

Obama only came out in support of gay marriage in May 2012. Yagan is the chief executive of the Match Group, which owns OkCupid.

This is not the first time Yagan has given money to a politician who is against gay marriage; he donated $US500 to former Utah Republican Chris Cannon in 2004. Cannon voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

And that is not the end of OkCupid's hypocrisy. Another OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder donated $US1000 to Obama’s 2012 campaign.

So where is the outrage over this? No leader of the gay community nor any open source or free software community leader has spoken out. Why?

There are numerous technology and other companies that donated in support of Proposition 8, as Slate revealed. Why is the gay community not up in arms against these entities and individuals?

What if, tomorrow, it was discovered that extremist groups depend on Linux exclusively for their computing needs? Would Linus Torvalds be cited as a supporter of terrorism? Remember, this is the same kind of logic, taken to its natural conclusion.

Why is it necessary for Eich to adhere to the same views as everyone else in Mozilla? Have his personal views prevented him from treating people equally? Nobody has brought up any incident from the past to make such a claim.

The level of intolerance shown to Eich can only be likened to that shown by the Afghan Taliban to non-Muslims in Afghanistan. Even Afghan men who do not sport a beard are often taken to task by the Taliban.

And yet, I'm sure, leaders of the gay community and those in the free software and open source communities will loudly protest at being lumped together with these uneducated types.

Eich is the inventor of JavaScript and has made massive contributions to Mozilla during his years there. He has never been cited for differential behaviour to people of gay orientation. Indeed, nobody thought his contribution to Proposition 8 was worth even commenting on until he became CEO. Then, thanks to OkCupid, it became an issue.

Among the many hypocrites who came out against Eich was Winifred Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation. Her self-serving statement is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. It claims Eich has stepped down as CEO – not that he was forced to step down. If that isn't spin, what is?

Of course, Baker supports Mozilla's receiving money from Google for being placed as the default search engine.

This is the same Google that has been outed as handing over customer data to the National Security Agency. The same Google that is spying on users. The same Google that has been found to be making deals to prevent employees from leaving for other companies to better their financial prospects. The same Google that handles its finances in such a way as to avoid paying its share of tax for business done overseas.

Yet Baker supports this company. When it came to Eich, she suddenly turned into an Old Testament prophet.

Mozilla also makes browsers for operating systems sold by Microsoft and Apple, two other big technology companies that have questionable ethics, to put it mildly. Both have also been in league with the NSA. Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. Apple is also involved in wage-fixing deals.

But Baker has never got up in her pulpit and thundered out about things like these.

Would Mozilla withdraw its browser for Windows and Mac OSX because of the questionable ethics of these two companies? You know the answer to that one – money talks, and Baker can well understand the language.

If Baker had any ethics, she would have backed Eich and pointed out that Mozilla does not support intolerance. Eich, himself, had made a statement about his position when the lynch mob started its campaign.

Mozilla has given in to the mob and the gay and free and open source software communities have shown that they excel in intolerance.

It is high time that all communities learned to distinguish between the personal and the professional. Eich's personal views did not, in any way, get in the way of him treating people equally. He had nothing against gay people. He did not support gay marriage.

If that is a hanging offence, then we have indeed come to a sorry state of affairs. How would gay people react if fundamentalist Christians insisted that they convert to Christianity or else lose their jobs in a given company? You wouldn't be able to hear anything other than howls of protest if such a situation eventuated.

But that same privilege is not accorded to a man like Eich. He suddenly became a monster. He was fair game.

Shame on those who preach the gospel of intolerance and masquerade as free-thinkers. Shame.

Image: Courtesy mozillla.org


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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