One of the hottest topics on the internet is the resignation of Brendan Eich as Mozilla CEO amid protests over his support to the anti-gay marriage referendum that passed in California in 2008.
The dating website OkCupid drew attention to Brendan Eich’s $1,000 donation to the Proposition 8 campaign by asking site users to boycott the Firefox web browser after Eich was promoted to CEO.
Internet pioneer Brendan Eich
Many news reports jumped on the Brendan Eich story in relation to his political contribution without even mentioning his role in developing and promoting key internet technology.
Brendan Eich helped create Netscape's Mozilla project to manage open-source contributions to the Netscape source code.
After AOL bought Netscape and shut down the Netscape browser unit, Eich helped spin out the non-profit Mozilla Foundation to support and lead the open source Mozilla project. Eich would also work on The Mozilla Corporation, a taxable entity that reinvests all of its profits back into the Mozilla projects.
Backlash crossing the line
A commentary in Forbes on Saturday, "Backlash Against Brendan Eich Crossed A Line," makes the point that "At the very least, Brendan Eich should have the liberty to believe and support causes as he wishes without being persecuted."
Another Saturday commentary from Forbes, "Mozilla's CEO Showed the Cost of Disclosure Laws by Crossing the Satan-Scherbatsky Line," makes the point that, "Instead, this episode showed the very real costs that donation-disclosure requirements inflict on civil society. That is, the only reason Eich resigned is because his $1,000 contribution to the Prop 8 campaign became public."
As individuals we all have the right to choose which companies we do business with, and which we choose to avoid.
The question this controversy raises is where do we draw the line regarding the rights of an individual, even those of a chief executive.
Does forcing an executive to step down because of a contribution to a political cause set a dangerous precedent?
The politics of technology
In an interview with The Guardian just days before his resignation Brendan Eich appeared committed to Mozilla, and declined to discuss his 2008 donation in support of California's gay marriage ban.
“So I don't want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we've been going, I don't believe they're relevant.”
Contrary to various media reports, The Mozilla Blog states that Brendan Eich was not forced out by employee pressure and he had wide spread support from Mozilla.
" While these tweets calling for Brendan’s resignation were widely reported in the media, they came from only a tiny number of people: less than 10 of Mozilla’s employee pool of 1,000. None of the employees in question were in Brendan’s reporting chain or knew Brendan personally.
In contrast, support for Brendan’s leadership was expressed from a much larger group of employees, including those who felt disappointed by Brendan’s support of Proposition 8 but nonetheless felt he would be a good leader for Mozilla. Communication from these employees has not been covered in the media."
On his personal website Brendan Eich addresses concerns for his stance on LGBT issues not long after becoming Mozilla CEO in a March 26 post.
"...I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you. More important, I want to lay them to rest by actions and results."
In his message on April 3, Brendan Eich mentions his departure from Mozilla near the end of a post discussing a technology issue.
"I’ve resigned as CEO and I’m leaving Mozilla to take a rest, take some trips with my family, look at problems from other angles."
In an interesting twist of the nature of the online world, many people are learning of Brendan Eich for the first time not because of his contributions to technology, but because of a contribution to a political cause.