Much has been said about how the termination of the recently-appointed Mozilla CEO was in violation of his free speech rights. In a nutshell, he made a donation of $1000 to Prop.8, a measure that ultimately passed in 2008 banning gay marriage in California. It has since been deemed unconstitutional and overturned by a federal court. The revelation of this donation had people up in arms clamoring for his resignation which they eventually got. Many complained that this would have a chilling effect on people’s free speech rights and make them hesitant to donate to or voice their support for their causes. Even people like Andrew Sullivan who ought to know better.
Most people often misunderstand that protesting against views or actions that they don’t like is not infringing on the other person’s right to free speech. It is only when the government steps in that it becomes such. In fact, as long as violence is not threatened or you don’t physically prevent the other person from voicing their unpopular opinion, expressing disapproval and protesting is also a form of free speech. People protesting Westboro Church’s protests at funerals were never deemed to violate the church’s free speech. In fact, that’s exactly how you protest against hateful speech. As long as you don’t get the government to prevent the Westboro church from traveling and protesting, it is not a violation of their free speech rights.
Similarly, protesting against the Mozilla CEO’s donation and threatening to abandon your development of their products is not gay-bullying. It is simply an act of taking your business elsewhere by voicing your protest against the actions of a symbolic head of an open-source corporation. The protests in fact started right within Mozilla when three of their board members quit  and several of their employees protested against the appointment even to the extent of going on unpaid leave. In such a case, you would wonder how did the CEO even get offered and appointed to his post. Also, the public protests against Mozilla was significant due to the nature of the corporation’s existence, as Farhad Manjoo explains. If you live by the public’s good-natured sentiments, then you also die by it. Any other corporation can just ask the protesters to fuck off and they’ll be fully entitled to. Heck, even Mozilla can do that although to a greater peril of their existence.
Corporations are free to bend to the will of their customers if they consider the protests will result in a significant downtick to their business. The caveat here being that the protests are from their customers and not just anyone random who thinks their feelings are being hurt. The government can only provide assurance that no violence occurs and no one is being intimidated with physical harm. Apart from that, if the government stays away, it is not an violation of free speech.
Update: Coincidentally, xkcd – the famous explainer of all things Internet – has an apt comic:
- There were six board members at Mozilla so how the heck did he even get appointed if three disagreed? [↩]