Brendan Eich is a middle-aged technologist who worked his way up at Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Mozilla along the way helping create the JavaScript language.  No one knows why he was selected to be CEO of Mozilla last month, but he was.  Brendan was CTO of Mozilla since 2005 so perhaps in a time of challenges, where browsers are losing out to apps for user’s eyeballs on mobile devices, the organization decided to turn to a technologist for a new direction.

Very shortly after his appointment it was disclosed that Eich made a $1,000 contribution in 2008 to the campaign for California Proposition 8 which was a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Well things went south from there extremely quickly.  Two days ago, a dating website, put code in their home page to detect Firefox browsers which redirected them to a page saying Mozilla’s new CEO is against equal rights for gay couples, so please use another browser to visit the site.

Naturally this got written up by the BBC and others.  Rarebit withdrew their app from Mozilla’s app store.  Today Rarebit called this “A Sad Victory”.

What do we make of this fast and furious reaction, both by the web community and by Mozilla?

First I think Americans generally believe in the freedom of expression.  There’s no denying Brendan Eich has the right to be politically active and I think no disagreement there.

Second I think Americans as consumers want full disclosure.  It’s hard to imagine keeping secrets in today’s pretty open world, but we did want to know whether a CEO believed in gay marriage or not.  We did not consider this an irrelevant detail.

Third I think Americans want to be free to choose, as Milton Friedman put it.  Free to choose whom to associate with and who to associate our dollars to.  That freedom can also extend to boycotting products of organizations that have leaders we disagree with.  This has been an organizing principle for civil rights activists for years.

In the end Eich had to step down.  The controversy about his views was becoming a controversy for Mozilla.  Does this mean we’ll only support corporate leaders who (1) aren’t politically active or (2) aren’t outed for being politically active in some cause?  I think the unfortunate answer is yes.  The late great Johnny Carson knew this and kept his politics out of the Tonight Show.  He believed if he put them into it he would alienate half his audience.

What impressed me the most about this was not that Eich had to resign, I suspected eventually he would have to.  It’s the speed with which it happened.  In a funny way it reminds me of John Thompson’s resignation as CEO of Yahoo in 2012 just four months after taking the job.  Thompson had lied on his resume about having a degree from a school.  This was uncovered and he was out.

Eich made no ethical lapse, none whatsoever.  However the judgement, by the board or by him or both, that the difficulty of defending himself would just be too much distraction.  Everything in the information age is faster, but although I think it’s a better thing for Mozilla that Eich goes, I also think it was a digital lynch flash mob that got him.

2 Responses to “Did a digital lynch flash mob hang Brendan Eich?”

  1. [...] Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich certainly found that out — and fast.  Read what our friend at PDXmobile had to say about it.  Posted by admin at 8:52 [...]

  2. [...] with it’s new Firefox OS smartphone, but their organization got derailed this year by the Brendan Eich controversy.  The problem remains: will there be an open source winner in the mobile world?  HTML5 holds the [...]

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