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Mozilla only made things worse by letting CEO Brandon Eich go

April 5, 2014
April 5, 2014

This has been a rough week for the open web.

Last week, Mozilla Corporation, makers of the ever-popular Firefox web browser, appointed co-founder Brendan Eich to CEO.  The move was not surprising—Eich, after all, invented Javascript, the web’s lingua franca—but it would turn into a PR nightmare for Mozilla after it was made public that Eich donated $1,000 to California’s now-infamous Proposition 8, which would deny LGBT Californians the right to marriage.  The appointment shook up not only Mozilla’s development staff, some of whom took to Twitter to call for Eich’s resignation, but also Mozilla’s board, three of whose members resigned upon his  taking the position.

The internet went into an uproar. Twitter branded Eich a homophobe and “pure hate.” Dating site OKCupid greeted its Firefox users with a splash screen urging them to switch browsers. More than 70,000 people signed onto a CREDO Mobile petition calling for Eich’s resignation. As a gay developer, I have just one thing to say:

The internet just cut off its nose to spite its Facebook.

Despite Eich’s (and Mozilla’s) restating his commitment to LGBT equality, apologizing, and even upholding a transgender-inclusive health policy, Eich resigned as CEO this week, as Mozilla disclosed on its company blog. He lasted only 11 days.

Javascript is the world’s most ubiquitous computing run-time language. It is the scripting language which turns “web pages” into functioning applications. When I started in web development in 1997, Javascript was in its infancy. Over nearly two decades, I’ve seen it outgrow the web browser into server-side implementations, I’ve seen it go mobile, take over Flash as animation engine, and spawn millions of ideas on github. None of this would have been possible without Brendan Eich.

One does not simply let Pablo Picasso go from the art school faculty—Eich’s talent alone makes him indispensable. And, as one self-identified “LGBT activist” developer at Mozilla wrote, Mozilla is a unique example of people of “differing and diverse beliefs” working together to “save the open web.”

But, apparently, not all beliefs.

I would never defend a homophobe—but does “pure hate” homophobia include dedicating oneself to outreach to “marginalized” LGBT developers, as Eich did almost immediately? Does Mozilla further its cause-privacy uber alles and the free flow of information—by making its pioneers into pariahs in social media, while issuing blatantly hypocritical statements which claim to treasure “religious diversity” at Mozilla?  (And did anyone flinch when Mark Zuckerberg held GOP fundraisers?) Is what we want ”politically correct web browsing” where the Twittersphere and “socially conscious corporations” determine whose ideas are disseminated? Is this the open internet, or shall the open-source web be verboten to those “on the wrong side of history”?

It is undeniable that public opinion is rapidly shifting toward LGBT equality, marriage included. But it should be equally undeniable that the organization dedicated to the internet as “global public resource” should understand that the “global public” also contains people who—on their own time—espouse, advocate, and sometimes monetarily support foreign, even ugly, views. Brendan Eich, who “kept his views” (which he called irrelevant to his mission) on LGBT marriage “out of Mozilla for 15 years,” should not have his life’s work invalidated by bygone donations.

We, especially those of us in the open source community, both LGBT and heterosexual, reap the benefits of Eich’s work every day.  And I am curious to see if Firefox OS will take off for mobile without someone as uniquely qualified as Eich at the helm.

I lament Eich’s departure from Mozilla, but as one of the greatest pioneers of American computing, I’m sure he won’t be unemployed for long.

Hey, Huawei’s probably hiring.

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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