Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fighting Media Narratives

... is perhaps futile. A lot of what I have to say has already been said. Yet, in case it makes a difference:

  • Almost all Mozilla staff supported keeping Brendan Eich as CEO, including many prominent LGBT staff, and many made public statements to that effect. A small number of Tweeters calling for him to step down got all the media attention. The narrative that Mozilla staff as a group "turned against Brendan" is false. It should go without saying, but most Mozilla staff, especially me, are very upset that he's gone. I've known him, worked with him and fought alongside him (and sometimes against him :-) ) for fourteen years and having him ripped away like this is agonizing.
  • The external pressure for Brendan to step down was the primary factor driving the entire situation. The same issue exploded in 2012 but there was less pressure and he got through it. No doubt Mozilla could have handled it better but the narrative that blames Mozilla for Brendan's departure misses the big picture. Boycotting Mozilla (or anyone for that matter) for cracking under intense pressure is like shooting a shell-shocked soldier.
  • As a Christian, Mozilla is as friendly a workplace as any tech organization I've known --- which is to say, not super friendly, but unproblematic. Because of our geographic spread --- not just of headcount, but of actual power --- and our broad volunteer base I think we have more real diversity than many of our competitors. The narrative that Mozilla as a group has landed on one side of the culture war is false, or at least no more true than for other tech organizations. In fact one thing I've really enjoyed over the last couple of weeks is seeing a diverse set of Mozilla people pull together in adversity and form even closer bonds.

I'll also echo something else a lot of people are saying: we have to fix Internet discourse somehow. It's toxic. I wrote about this a while back, and this episode has made me experience the problem at a whole new level. I'll throw one idea out there: let's communicate using only recorded voice+video messages, no tweets, no text. If you want to listen to what I have to say, you have to watch me say it, and hopefully that will trigger some flickers of empathy. If you want me to listen to you, you have to show me your face. Want to be anonymous, do it the old-fashioned way and wear a mask. Yeah I know we'd have to figure out searchability, skimmability, editing, etc etc. Someone get to work on it.


  1. Hi Robert,

    interesting take on the situation. From what you say it's basically ok what happened to Brendan. I disagree. The consequences of this issue are broad. For example who can now feel safe contributing or funding conservative/faith based political groups if years down the track it can be used to take your employment away. Some people may not have' to work to support their families, but most do. If people allow this behaviour by corporations to continue with out a significant push people will simply be to afraid to support a cause they may believe in.

    Regardless of any level of internal support, publicly the company did not support the CEO. It unfortunate perhaps that Mozilla was the' company that this happened to but I think the issue is bigger then just Mozilla.

    Regards Brett

  2. >>> From what you say it's basically ok what happened to Brendan. <<<

    Not at all. It was really, really bad --- for him, for Mozilla, and as a precedent.

    >>> publicly the company did not support the CEO <<<

    They did, though. Maybe not enough.

    >>> I think the issue is bigger then just Mozilla <<<

    Yes it is, and I'm quite angry that we became the football for two teams neither of which cares about us at all.

    1. Actually, let me update my post to make it really clear that "what happened to Brendan" was very much not OK.

    2. I understand Mozilla needs to tell the story where Mozilla and mozillians are "innocent".

      When I was in charge of my own company if somebody asked me "what about gays?" I would have answered "It is not my business, I only care of people doing their job that is to develop software".

      Instead Mozilla and mozillians answer "I strongly support the LGBT community" or something along this line.

      Mozilla is not "neutral" at all the the support that everybody keeps telling in favor of Eich is just a fairy tale.

    3. For the most part, the Mozilla staff who made public statements said "I strongly support the LGBT community *and* Brendan". You're just wilfully ignoring this.

    4. Yes, but the "I support the LGBT community" was written exactly this way in the very first line of every post. The "I support Brendan" was spread across the "bla bla bla" in the background.

      Besides, I was annoyed the most by M.Baker posts. They are formally correct but the "tone" is rather obvious.

    5. I've read every single piece of literature related to this incident -- every tweet, petition, news article, blog, and forum post, including everything on Planet Mozilla. I have to agree with Lorenzo.

      Almost every employee writing about this, both before and after the resignation, spent 90% of their time establishing their LGBT ethos before half-heartedly endorsing Brendan. Where was the spirited defense?

      The people at Mozilla who were spilling ink over their personal LGBT views have completely missed the point. Mozilla's central organizing principle is that digital communication must be liberated. And the corollary: success in executing an internationally distributed social mission requires collaborators to coat-check their biases.

      The only person who lived up to the uncorrupted Mozillian ideal was Brendan himself, when he declined to talk about his donation to avoid politicizing the company. I think there is even a possibility that he supports marriage equality, but risked his job remaining silent in the interest of the mission. This quote is particularly instructive:

      "If Mozilla cannot continue to operate according to its principles of inclusiveness, where you can work on the mission no matter what your background or other beliefs, I think we'll probably fail."

      I appreciate the impulse to share personal experiences and can understand why employees thought it would help to defuse the situation. But what they wrote is not really all that admirable in this context. Talking about having one's marriage annulled because of Prop 8 or a living as a closeted Christian in Silicon Valley certainly stirs emotion, but when enormous pressure is unjustly brought to bear on an organization, I think it is far more courageous to respond without qualifying one's own belief system.

    6. People expressed their support for LGBT causes before defending Brendan because they wanted to establish common ground in order to influence people. A "spirited defence" may look good to people who already sympathize with you but it often alienates those who don't.

    7. Anyway, it's really easy to theorize, with perfect hindsight and no skin in the game, about what people under intense pressure should or should not have done. Some support *at the time* would have been nice but both sides of this war seem to prefer punishing their enemies to supporting their allies.

    8. No, a spirited defense changes minds.

      A blog post in which the author prostrates before mobs of internet activists with one heartfelt LGBT anecdote after another before finally begrudging support for the CEO does not.


    BrendanEich (@BrendanEich)
    April 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm
    David, can you please stop running all over the blogosphere writing things you do not know to be true?
    No one tried to convince me to stay as CEO. My previous position was not just CTO, it was also SVP Engineering — a position eliminated in a reorg I had just done.
    What “key position” am I “active” in now, pray tell?
    Best to stick to what you know to be true.

    You said "Almost all the staff wanted to keep him as CEO" - someone forgot to tell Brendan...

    1. It's true whether he knew it or not. If you read a bunch of people spoke out in his favour and none against IIRC. I didn't speak out there, but I did speak to him personally.

      I'm not sure what exactly he meant in that comment. Maybe he meant "no-one who heard about the resignation in time tried to convince me to stay as CEO", which was a very small set of people I think.

      I think almost all the staff were totally blindsided by his resignation, didn't think that public support was necessary or would make a difference, and had no idea that "convincing him to stay as CEO" was an issue until it was too late. That's true for me.

    2. Then again, even if I had known, I wouldn't have had anything new to say. Brendan knows and always did that I'd support him to the hilt.

    3. Oh here comes a brand new concept, the "implicit support". Everybody was supporting Eich without telling him (or anybody else) because he knew. Or he should have known. Or he should have guessed.

    4. I think it's clear when he says "No one tried to convince me to stay as CEO", he's talking about Mitchell and Reid.

  4. One of the more ironic things I see going around right are claims that we're somehow infringing on our employees free speech. This whole thing started because we (unlike most other companies I know) encourage employees to use their free speech, even if they're using it to say negative things about Moz. I fairly regularly see employees talking publicly about problems within Mozilla and problems with Gecko that, quite frankly, make us look bad. They probably contribute to the public perception that Gecko is older and fatter and buggier than our competitors. Not to mention the damage from this current kerfuffle.

    But I don't think I'd trade that perception for shutting anyone up. Even in the face of (yearly?) PR blunders like this that are almost purely the consequence of us letting employees speak freely, it still seems worth it. I question it sometimes, but in general, I think its probably better than the alternative.

  5. This just rings hollow. There were multiple public pronouncements "apologizing" and reaffirming support for marriage equality from Mozilla when the LGBT community was offended. Yet there has been nothing but crickets in response to those offended by the perceived intolerance for opposing views. Folks at Mozilla can claim to simply be victims in the "culture wars" but from the outside it seems apparent that the company is choosing sides.