The month of March was a tumultuous one for Mozilla, partially caused by the appointment of a new CEO — Brendan Eich. Board members stepped down over his appointment, OkCupid is encouraging Firefox users to switch browsers, and there has been a widespread outcry against Eich. All of this over a $1000 political donation to the Proposition 8 campaign in California.
The controversy over the donation goes back to 2012, when Eich was CTO of Mozilla. The donation was made in his name in 2008, with Mozilla attached as his employer. While it did gain some press, Eich did not step down, nor was he ousted.
It’s difficult to separate private political activities from the world of business, so much so that some use their high profile to talk politics with the press and public. For example, Hobby Lobby management has been wearing its politics on its sleeve recently.
As stated in 2012 by Eich himself, California law requires donors to list their employer. He also linked to a statement of Mozilla’s values: “Mozilla’s diversity is a success condition. Our mission and our goal is truly global. Our mission taps into a shared desire for respect and control and user sovereignty that runs across cultures and across many other worldviews.”
In light of Eich’s promotion to CEO, several board members resigned from Mozilla, but according to an official Mozilla statement sent to Ars Technica about the matter, “The three board members ended their terms last week for a variety of reasons. Two had been planning to leave for some time, one since January and one explicitly at the end of the CEO search, regardless of the person selected.”
But OkCupid was really the flame that reignited the issue. Users trying to access the site through a Mozilla browser were briefly stalled with a message that read, “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”
The story went viral, and Mozilla employees have been prompted to issue a statement. Eich spoke out. Mark Surman, executive director of the non-profit Mozilla foundation said in his post, “This ability to set aside differing and diverse beliefs to focus on a common cause is something we as Mozilla stand for on principle. And, in a way that I have never seen in any other organization, this works at Mozilla. It makes us stronger.”
When the Internet masses come together, the nuances of the issue can become lost. The general consensus during events like this seems to be for doing the right thing. Or at least it must be seen to be done.
Unfortunately for Eich, he can’t just undonate the money, so he must step down — or so the thinking goes. But this isn’t about justice for those without equal rights, it’s about sending a message. What that message is other than ‘Fire Eich,’ I’m not sure.
Update: Eich has resigned as CEO and board member.