The Firefox Boycott Is a Misguided Idea

Apr 01 at 12pm

By Peter Lawrence Kane

In case you haven’t heard, there is a boycott brewing against Mozilla because its CEO, Brendan Eich, made a $1000 donation in support of Prop. 8. The fracas looked like it might blow over, but now OkCupid doesn’t work on Firefox. Ruh-roh.

Let’s all take a deep breath, gay people and allies, because this idea is not well thought-out. (First, a caveat: homophobia is wrong, and getting people to care about injustice is good.) But with all due respect to LGBT activists, it’s not a crime to be a jerk, and it’s definitely not a crime to be a political conservative who supports conservative causes, period. This boycott is both too diffuse and too myopic, and Eich’s action too petty.

Unless it’s actively censoring gay websites or mistreating its own employees, a web browser can’t really be homophobic. Furthermore, a company and the personal beliefs of its CEO are not necessarily the same. That it took six years for Eich’s donation to surface would seem to indicate that Mozilla has not done anything materially damaging to LGBT people (although I’d reconsider if such allegations came to light) and we don’t need to demand scalps for what amounts to thoughtcrime.

I don’t believe that anyone truly wants to punish Mozilla; they just want to vocalize their anger and know of no other way to do it. But if the company actually suffered, its 600 employees would feel the brunt of it. As Mozilla is based in Mountain View and this is 2014, I will charitably assume that most of them aren’t noxious homophobes, and I’d be reluctant to toy with people’s livelihoods like that.

This is especially true when considering corporate America’s trillion sins. As but one example, does Apple CEO Tim Cook personally endorse the deplorable working conditions at factories that make iPhone parts? (OK, one more: does John Mackey of Whole Foods really believe all that crazy shit?) To me, all that’s considerably worse than a one-time, low-level political donation, even one related to an issue – since settled, in the good way – that affected me as a gay person.

I’m also a little creeped out by OkCupid, and would prefer the internet not become an ever-expanding minefield of petty obstructions, even in the name of my rights. Are they really that idealistic, or just ostentatiously protecting the bottom line? We sometimes tend to go overboard with respect to gay rights and corporate America – in both directions. I don’t share the Human Rights Campaign’s little starbursts for pro-gay Chevron, and conversely, this just doesn’t feel like a big deal.

To rank Eich among destructive corporate titans, he’s definitely no Sheldon Adelson, using his billions to steer the entire federal government towards his whims. Almost no one had heard the name “Brendon Eich” before this, and his personal beliefs hold negligible sway. I’m confident that America can withstand deviance from liberal orthodoxy. Do we really need to “raise awareness” here, or show strength to ourselves, as with the 1977 orange juice boycott? And when will it end? Are we still opposing Vladimir Putin in the form of boycotting non-Russian vodka? And doesn’t all of this feel slightly like non-action masquerading as action?

Boycott-happy homophobes are always spoiling for a fight, and usually, nobody really cares. This is partly because they’re a bunch of irritating crybabies with waning influence, but partly due to boycott fatigue. Let’s save it for the truly grievous situations, otherwise this once potent weapon will be little more than a butter knife that thinks it’s a warhead.  

Image via Thinkstock

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