Apr 06, 2014

On Thursday 3rd April, Brendan Eich resigned his post as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation. Before his departure he had come under heavy pressure for financing Proposition 8, an incredibly contentious political campaign. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a very clear and impartial rundown of the facts.

Many people were understandably relieved, while others expostulated on Twitter about over-liberalization and the curtailing of free speech. To be clear: the whole thing was an ugly mess - nobody really won. The only saving grace, it seems, was Mitchell Baker’s tactful, elegant and sensitive press release about the matter:

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.

I only wish every company could respond like this. I felt proud reading it, and I don’t even work for Mozilla!

To be perfectly honest: I am not sorry for not supporting Eich. Nor am I sorry to see him go. The leader of an organisation committed to “doing good” cannot publicly discriminate against gay people - implicitily or explicitly - especially in the case of such an important social foundation like Mozilla. And I’m sorry, the “It’s his private life” excuse doesn’t really wash:

Politics is entirely about how we think others should be treated. If you have a leadership role, your politics is relevant.

There are silver linings though: hopefully Mozilla can take this painful experience and grow from it, picking a new leader which better reflects its core values:

I really hope Mozilla emerges from this strong, and more able to make all of its employees feel safe working there

But despite the positives, as always, there was a deluge of ill-thought out and staggeringly irrational flame wars on Twitter. Here are a few of the recurring themes (logical fallacies would be a more apt term) that I saw regurgitated time and time again.

The mob bullied him into resigning

Nobody got him “fired” - it was effectively a foregone conclusion. You can’t run a social organisation and actively support another one which strives to eradicate equal rights.

Furthermore, he chose not to apologise. Sticking to your principles is one thing, but to do so when thousands of people have voiced their concerns and consternation - including dozens of Mozilla employees - is just plain stubborn. There is no excuse.

Also, I have an issue with that awful weasel word “bullying”. Vocalising your disagreement against a political initiative which seeks to discriminate gay people (through public misinformation – they’re a threat to your children!) is in no way an act of “bullying”. It’s an act of humane integrity. Prop 8 is not the victim here:

Almost every gay person I know remembers the passage of Prop 8 as the most traumatic and degrading anti-gay event in recent American history. The tactics used by pro-Prop 8 campaigners were not merely homophobic. They were laser-focused to exploit Californians’ deepest and most irrational fears about gay people, indoctrinating an entire state with cruelly anti-gay propaganda. Early on, Prop 8’s supporters decided to focus their campaign primarily on children, stoking parents’ fears about gay people brainwashing their kids with pro-gay messages or, implicitly, turning their children gay.

Eich wasn’t just a casual opponent of marriage equality. He was a major contributor to the most vitriolic anti-gay campaign in American history, one that set the standard of homophobic propaganda that continues to this day. When we talk about Eich’s anti-gay stance, we aren’t just talking about abstract beliefs. We’re talking about concrete actions that harmed thousands of gay families and informed innumerable gay Americans that they were sinful, corrupted predators.

Nor is it “bullying” to ask that social leaders be held accountable for their actions. Calling Eich’s demise a product of “bullying” is an inaccurate assessment which reduces an extremely complex and fraight issue to crude, playground terms. People really need to pause on the words they’re using and not be so impulsively dramatic.

Freedom of speech

This is not a “freedom of speech” issue. It’s about the suitability of a CEO who doesn’t believe in LGBTQ rights leading a company that actively does. A CEO does not just speak for themselves, and they don’t just serve as the figurehead of their company; they also publicly represent and speak for every single employee.

The focus of this debacle is not about his personal freedom, but rather whether he is fit to lead an altruistic organisation and maximize the potential of every one of its passionate employees.

If Mozilla is a movement as much as a company, and they assert it is, their leaders must embody that movement. End of story.

I suspect that many of the conservative, middle-aged white men that poured out their vitriol on Twitter about Eich’s demise are afraid that they might be held accountable too. It rightfully frightens them: but that’s a good thing, they should be held accountable, especially as leaders, for their words and actions.