Sunday, April 6, 2014

I do not think that word means what you think it means

The internet needs a gigantic sign on it that everybody has to read before they enter that says "Freedom of speech does not mean that the government should enforce your point of view and censure other points of view."  This week there was quite the kerfuffle about Brendan Eich, the new CEO of Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser.  Eich donated $1,000 to anti gay marriage causes a few years ago.  Many people were angry about this choice and the internet dating service OkCupid decided to make a special main page for Firefox users that encouraged them to download other browsers in protest.  Finally Eich stepped down, his ability to lead compromised by the controversy.

I don't like people who are bigoted against LGB folks.  Eich is similarly entitled to not like LGB folks, and also to not like me.  We can both make political contributions or deliver diatribes on the internet without fear of government retribution because we have free speech in our respective countries.  (In theory, anyway.)  However, there is no guarantee anywhere that delivering such diatribes or making such contributions will not result in negative consequences for us in terms of our interactions with other people.  Free speech is *not* about being able to say anything and everyone having to shut up or agree with us, it is about freedom from government censorship, interference, or aggression over our statements.

While I am certainly on OkCupid's side in this mess I don't want to give them too much credit since this is a pretty fantastic publicity stunt for them.  They are the queer and poly oriented dating site (among the mainstream dating sites, at any rate) and so this is certainly a great way for them to cater to a big chunk of their demographic and get their name in the news at minimal cost.  I don't know that taking a swing at an entire company just to target the CEO for objectionable viewpoints is necessarily the best tack to take from an advocacy perspective but it sure worked at getting attention and that is really the main point for them.

Everyone involved has the right to do what they did and since the government did not interfere nobody's rights have been violated.  Everyone has all of the free speech they are entitled to.  What happened is that the free market of ideas determined that Eich's viewpoints are unacceptable and he suffered reasonable consequences.  That is just how these things work, and it is exactly the way they should work.

It is becoming less and less acceptable year by year for people to be bigoted against marginalized groups, and although acceptance is not proceeding at the same pace for every group it is clear that the trend is for the better.  The marketplace of ideas that once very clearly supported the sort of views that Eich holds, and indeed much more unacceptable views than that, has evolved, and people who wish to take on public and important positions should take heed on which way the wind is blowing.

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