Bandwagons and Mozilla

I realize yesterday's entry was long. On the way home I thought about it and I think the summation goes like this:

The foremost thing that worries me about the brave new online-first world* is that it's far too easy to call for summary judgement. Too easy to start a blackballing campaign. Too easy to utterly dismiss ideas you don't want to deal with. Too easy to scorch earth.

It's already been proven--yes, proven--that in the online world, absent a number of in-person social cues, we lose subtlety, tact, grace, etc. Since we can't read the cues as well, we tend to rush more quickly to the Commence Firebombing button, and we don't worry about using this option as much as we should because we don't believe the consequences are as real. You'd hesitate before doing something that made an enemy of your next-door neighbor (well, unless you hated his guts), but you wouldn't hesitate to alienate someone on the other side of the planet who only exists for you as words on a screen.

This isn't a new or original observation, of course; I have very few new ideas, I just chew other people's. But it's given me a great deal of pause, where social media are concerned, in recent months.

(A note to Medley: Your points, though, are well-made and well-taken, and I owe you an email when time permits.)

* The online world isn't "new" in any respect. What's new-ish is the fact that for so many people the online world is first, that it takes precedence over real-world relations and, for some, nearly replaces them entirely. The percentage of people who not only do, but actually prefer to, stay in their house at their computer all day, is in my opinion** the highest it's ever been, and likely to get higher.

** That means I don't have any hard data to support this assertion whatsoever.

Let's talk about Mozilla for a moment. Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, gave a thousand dollars a few years ago to support California's Proposition 8, an anti-gay-marriage initiative. Now, Eich is not someone we're still assessing. He's been with Mozilla from the beginning, and seems to be pretty well-regarded (anyone who can invent Javascript and still have friends must have something going for them). It's possible he has changed his mind about gay marriage since his donation. It's possible he hasn't. For the moment, I am willing to believe him when he says his personal beliefs will not affect the way Mozilla treats gay-rights issues (or their gay employees).

In short, I am not prepared to condemn an entire company just because of certain personal stances of the CEO, until such time as those personal stances become reflected in the company's policies and activities - if they ever do! (As a contrasting example, I do have issues with Chick-Fil-A, where the beliefs of the Cathy family have steered them into corporate policies I feel are hateful.)

Yet what am I seeing all over Twitter? A movement to boycott Firefox, Mozilla's main product. I'm seeing OKCupid, a dating service which (as others have pointed out) is not especially sterling in this regard itself, showing Mozilla users a pro-boycott message (which I'm afraid I have to dismiss as them exploiting this tide to benefit their own image, under the circumstances).

I am not boycotting Firefox, in case you hadn't already guessed. Let's look at it from a practical angle, in terms of browser choices. I could use:

Internet Explorer: A still-horrific browser from a company which is still fairly evil in its practices, despite having both calmed down and lost clout in recent years.

Chrome: A shiny-but-shallow browser which is basically a Trojan horse for data snooping and a funnel/gateway drug to other Google products, from a company which is setting new records in being evil beyond Microsoft's wet dreams in their heyday.

(I explained to a friend the other night: Google has two things which have actually proven to make them money, and only two. The first is gaming search results. The second is selling your personal information and habits. Everything else they do is either a distraction to keep you from noticing the above, or a desperate stab at finding some other way to profit.)

Opera: A browser no one knows about (except my friend Shmuel), no one cares about (except my friend Shmuel), and no one supports properly. A pretty ship which could vanish like the Flying Dutchman at any moment.

Firefox: A very good browser, despite frequent puzzling and frustrating UI design choices (yes, yes, Blake, I know, you say I'm a Wizard, I say I'm a Stalwart, either way I lose), run by a fairly good if chaotic company which just happens to have a CEO who has some personal opinions I disagree with.

Seems like a pretty clear choice to me.

But obviously I'm not going to say any of that online, because the bandwagon is rolling and it'll roll over anyone in its way. If I put my objections out in social media (as opposed to stating them safely in this obscure little backwater, in the middle of a text long enough that any stranger who wanders by at random won't make it that far), I will automatically become one of the villains; we're past the point where logic has any value or effectiveness. You're on the bandwagon or you're in the mud.

And that's what I'm seeing over and over again in the online world: Too many bandwagons and not enough logic, and no channel for appeal. That's what scares me.