Monday, April 07, 2014

The Thing About Free Speech

The Free Speech Argument has come up recently with Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stepping down. In case you missed it, back in 2008, Eich made a donation to help pass California's Prop 8 against marriage equality. Then, toward the end of last month, he was promoted by Mozilla to CEO. The dating/hookup site OKCupid put a statement on their website requesting, that in light of his promotion, people not use Mozilla to access OKCupid. It became a thing. 

Eich has "stepped down" and Mozilla chairwoman Mitchell Baker has released this statement: "We didn't act like you'd expect Mozilla to act. We didn't move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We're sorry. We must do better..." She went on to say that Mozilla believes in equality and freedom of speech and "figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard."

And that, my friends, is the real problem. 

Many, many, many people are "reminding" us that while we have freedom of speech, that doesn't mean we have freedom from consequences after expressing our freedom of speech. does. It's not really freedom of speech if we are threatened with losing our jobs, our homes, our livelihood, our security, for speaking our minds. 

This is particularly difficult for me, because I so vehemently and passionately disagree with everything that donation stands for. But he made it as a private individual, not a representative of Mozilla. He exercised his right to free speech ~ and yes, in order for it to be free, he needed to be immune from sanction for it.

Now, it's possible that he really did choose to step down. That he and Mozilla sat down and realized they really weren't a good match, and he needed to go work for a more conservative company. It's possible it was a huge relief to him, as well as the company. But given that the donation in question took place almost 7 years ago and he performed well enough to get promoted to CEO during that time, I doubt it.

He was not acting on behalf of Mozilla. Mozilla did not make the donation. He did not (to my knowledge) combine his employment with his private actions in any way, shape, or form. And he lost his job for expressing his personal beliefs in a personal way. This information should never have been made public in the first place.

Freedom of speech is, in my opinion, the most difficult of freedoms. Because it means we really must be willing to let others hold opinions ~ and express them ~ that we loathe. That we are in polar disagreement with. Because freedom of speech does mean we are free from consequences, if we like it or not.

Those are Pobble Thoughts. That and a buck fifty will get you coffee.


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the honesty that you bring to this article. That you openly admit being against what the donation was for but that your principles say you need to be able to separate the man's personal life from his performance in his professional role. At that level, it's not inconceivable to me that he can keep those two separate.

BostonPobble said...

So and So ~ Thank you. It's a difficult struggle, but "can their personal life stay separate from their professional role" is one of the (many) prongs I use for this particular test. I always have to be careful to check my immediate reaction, though. My knee-jerk tends to be very anti-freedom, as painful as that is to admit.