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The Truth Behind Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich’s Demise


If nothing else, the success of Mozilla’s popular web browser, Firefox, stands as a monument to the ideals behind open source software: that Internet development should foster openness, inclusiveness, and collaboration.

According to Mozilla’s Manifesto, its developers believe that “openness, innovation, and opportunity” and a “community-based approach” are keys to creating “world-class open source software” that ensures the Internet “benefits everyone.”

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As the man who created JavaScript for Netscape Navigator, Brendan Eich was so committed to those principles that, when parent AOL shuttered Netscape’s browser unit, he cofounded a nonprofit organization to embody them, the Mozilla Foundation.

I seriously doubt if Eich envisioned there might come a day when those very ideals would bring about his demise.

Now that he’s essentially been forced out of his own company after running the show for less than two weeks, I wonder how Eich feels about the double-edged sword that Internet transparency without boundaries and a social collective that behaves like a lynch mob can wield.

In case you didn’t know, Eich donated $1,000 to back Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum to amend California’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Although the amendment passed by a slim margin, an appeal’s court later struck it down.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times published an entire searchable database of donors supporting and opposing the ban, which is apparently legal. And even though there are over 100,000 names on the 2,000-page list, in 2012, someone apparently searched for and outed Eich. Who and for what purpose, your guess is as good as mine.

That created a bit of an uproar in the Twitterverse until it dawned on everyone that this guy created and fostered one of the most successful open, collaborative, and inclusive organizations in the history of tech. Whatever his personal views on same-sex marriage, they never influenced his behavior, not one iota.

The social media mob quieted down until, about a year and a half later, Mozilla’s board named Eich – then CTO – to take over as chief executive. That’s when the firestorm resumed with a passion.

Some employees revolted and openly called for him to step down. A dating site called for a boycott of Firefox. And the way some in the media grilled Eich – hounding him to publicly recant his opposition to gay marriage and throwing around words like racist – you’d think the guy wanted to bring back Jim Crow laws or something.

Funny thing is, fanatical activists never see the hypocrisy in their own actions. Politically correct zealots that march to the diversity drumbeat are only inclusive of those who agree with their own groupthink. They’re only interested in being collaborative within their own hive collective.

Never mind that Eich helped to create the hive and its culture. Once he was tainted with the stench of a different viewpoint – an unaccepted viewpoint – the hive turned on him and brutally attacked him as an outsider.

Just 10 days after taking the reins as CEO, Eich made what was probably the most difficult decision of his career and quit the company he loved. I really feel for the guy. But hard as I’ve tried to find a villain in this story, there simply isn’t one to be found.

The problem is with Mozilla: its utopian ideology, the naivety of its founders, and the lynch mob mentality of the politically correct, social collective they helped to create. The sad truth is that Eich’s demise was by his own hand. And I think that, some day, he’ll come to realize that.

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