On Mozilla, Boycotts, and Solving Problems in Tech

April 1, 2014  —  Filed under: mozilla, boycotts, lgbt, inclusiveness, technology, industry

Lots of ink has been spilled over the past week about Mozilla’s decision to name as CEO an individual who has contributed to an anti-gay proposition campaign in California. While I don’t seek to add to the cacophony of confirmation/derision/etc, there is a potential error in the making that should be addressed.

As a gay person working in the tech industry (sorta), I for one am very encouraged by the fact that so many are willing to stand up and make a statement when confronted with such injustices. We should all take a moment to remember how far we’ve come in this regard, how such a reaction would likely be unthinkable even as late as five years ago. Whether we are talking about private individuals who have spoken up, or companies like OKCupid who have made their opposition known in a very public way, such steps are incredibly positive and should be recognized as such.

And make no mistake, the actions of this individual are not to be minimized. There is something very perverse about the ability to use personal wealth to support a measure that harms the greater good, or infringes on the rights of others. Financial inequality can often be traced as the root (or at the very least a contributing factor) in other forms of equality. This speaks to a wider problem with our society and political system.

But perspective and a clear-headed approach is needed when dealing with such things. Did Mozilla make a mistake in promoting this individual? Yes. Should Mozilla be held to account for their failure in this regard? Absolutely. Should we be boycotting Mozilla products because of this? Don’t be ridiculous.

First, a boycott is a weapon of capitalism: an attempt to deny profit to an entity that has violated a set of norms that people find unacceptable. Mozilla is a non-profit organization, however. While they do have an economic incentive in people using Firefox, this is only used to continue the work they are doing, and not enrich a set of shareholders or grafters. There’s no sense in trying to “punish” them through a boycott. Mozilla isn’t Chick-Fil-A.

Second, there are far more pressing concerns in the tech community that would be adversely affected by a boycott of Mozilla products:

don’t use the product of the company whose ceo hates gay marriage, use the product of the giant terrifying company destroying sf instead — @m_kopas, 31 Mar 2014 19:59

A boycott, after all, is a double-edged economic weapon: unless you abstain from Internet browsing completely (or resort to using Internet Explorer, god forbid), you’ll likely gravitate toward Chrome, Firefox’s ultimate competitor. Google is the driving force behind a significant number of the tech industry’s problems; it is a capitalistic, oppressive and exploitative entity that seeks to maximize its profit at the expense of the socioeconomic well-being of those it has interpellated. I am not simply speaking of its status as a large profit-making entity: to be clear, I believe Google’s vision of technology in society is dangerous and must be vehemently opposed. As such, suggesting that one abstain from using software produced by a good non-profit organization because a mistake was made in promotion practices, and favouring instead the use of its “do-only-evil” competitor which is destroying the world, is dangerous in kind.

Now this doesn’t mean that all Chrome users are bad people. It means that one shouldn’t react to a perceived insult by exacerbating another, much larger problem. A senseless boycott will only reinforce the inequalities that we should be working to eliminate in society.

Instead, this anger should be channeled towards a change of how individuals are included and represented in technology, and society as a whole. This goes for members of the queer/LGBT community as it goes for women, visible minorities and other underrepresented communities. It should be used to confront certain well-known hackers that continue to use homophobic slurs; those who may not be in a position of power like the CEO of Mozilla, but who propagate the effects of homophobia on a much more widespread and personal level. It should be used to correct those who suggest that tolerance of “opinions” holds the same weight as tolerance of unchangeable fact. It should be used to challenge those who seek to use their own economic privilege to the detriment of others. And it should be used to ensure that all races, colours and orientations have a voice in the tech community, that they can be heard and respected as anyone else.

So at the end of the day, what is left? Proposition 8 has failed, marriage is fair and free in California, and the individual in question’s donation was ultimately for naught. They’ve been identified and shamed accordingly. It is important that those who may find themselves in similar situations in the future recognize the gravity of this mistake. And that is the only thing that is going to create a positive change going forward.


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