The Free Software Foundation has added Richard Stallman back to its Board of Directors

Ok, everyone, so today, I learned from the Open Source Blog ItsFoss that the Free Software Foundation had added Richard Stallman back to its Board of Directors through a Breitbart-like blog post. I’m not super involved in the Free Software Foundation community and don’t know much about Kernel development or its community. I’m disappointed with the Free Software Foundations’ decision. But more so, I am disappointed in the editorial direction of ItsFoss. I hope they see this blog post and consider changing their viewpoint. Meanwhile I’m gonna rant on why I don’t like Richard Stallman, am disappointed at ItsFoss, thoughts on “cancel culture”, ideas for an open internet, and more. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the drama 😀

Context: Why I don’t like Richard Stallman? He attacked non-binary individuals and their choice of they/them/theirs pronouns.

Part of this is just I don’t Richard Stallman or his political views. GNU and Linux are cool and I use them for somethings so thanks for making that. Overall I don’t like his political ideology and therefore him as a person. I found one article on his website to be quite infuriating. Thankfully I’m not forced to read it. I’m gonna critique this anyways just to show an example of why I believe his behavior is harmful.

Richard Stallman, as someone in the academic space, should already know language is fluid. This page attacking the use of they/them/theirs pronouns is unnecessary. I would invite you to read the UNC Writing Center’s guide on Gender-Inclusive Language. Grammarly (experts in grammar) wrote a blog post explaining why to use singular they pronouns. Your expertise is in Software Development, not in English Grammar, please listen to the experts. I’m a bit torn, to be honest, it has the appearance of an academic post with good intentions but instead ends up coming off as an attack.

There is pressure to respond by referring to a single person as “they”, but that is confusing in practice as well as jarring. Therefore I have adopted a method of making English gender-neutral while still distinguishing between singular and plural.

Richard Stallman – Personal Website – “Better Genderless Pronouns in English”

There is pressure because people set boundaries and expectations for how they are treated.

Always say “they”. This violates the grammar of English so deeply that it feels terribly wrong. It also results frequently in confusing expressions in which the referent of “they” is unclear. For example:

“When my child was removed and placed with Dad, they internalised it and took it like they did something wrong.” (Both the child and Dad internalized it?)

“Keep building the safe space. Keep eye contact with them and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence: the absence of response from you two will push them to leave the area shortly.” (Which of these people does “them” include?)

“My partner places his or her smartphone where they can see it when we are together.” (Some chaperons can see it?)

“Spotting the attackers emerging from the car with knives, machetes and axes, the officer raised their rifle and shot four of them dead.” (The officer raised the attackers’ rifle?)

You can figure out what these sentences are intended to mean, with a little thought. So can I. That doesn’t alter the fact that the pronoun confusion puts a gratuitous obstacle in the path of comprehension.

Richard Stallman – Personal Website – “Better Genderless Pronouns in English”

Bro you understanding fucking Kernel development and say English is hard? In some sentences the meaning can be unclear. English isn’t a programming language. Ambiguity exists.

Cancel-culture is the right wing’s argument to being told harmful speech isn’t ok

Cancel-culture isn’t real. No one wants to spend their day attacking harmful speech. We all have other interests. When a website engages in harmful behavior, people are quick to call it out. It takes most hosting providers a long time even to consider suspending services. Only big clouds seem to care about abuse or illegal content these days. It’s not as big of an issue as people make it out to be.

Parts that make ItsFoss look less like a blog about open source and more like a copy of Breitbart

The article I read today makes ItsFoss look like a tech-politics version of Breitbart. It’s disappointing because I enjoyed reading that blog and will likely unfollow them if you would like to know why to take a look at the following paragraphs directly quoted from ItsFoss. My commentary is below each blockquote. You can also read the article if you want to suffer from additional cringe content.

Before being cancelled, Stallman was the president of FSF. He returns as one of the board directors, not as the president. That’s not the same thing but as the creator of GNU and Free Software Foundation, FSF owes Stallman that much.

Abhishek on ItsFoss – “Good News! Richard Stallman is Back at Free Software Foundation”

I’m not sure canceled is the right word. He was pressured into resigning. His presence puts the Free Software Foundation in a bad light. The same applies to literally any job. If you damage the organization’s reputation, the first thing they will do is remove you as damage control.

I am now on the Free Software Foundation board of directors once again” announces a visibly happy Richard Stallman. You can feel for the person who was forced to resign from the organization he created and nurtured for 30 years.

Abhishek on ItsFoss – “Good News! Richard Stallman is Back at Free Software Foundation”

I mean, it sucks to get kicked out. At the same time, the Free Software Foundation is a public entity, not your private clubhouse. Formal rules and policies are going to be applied to protect the organization. I recommend creating the Stallman Club or something.

The reason why Stallman was forced to resign is different. As an intellectually leftist, Stallman tried to persuade students not to protest against a dead colleague who was named by one of victims of Jeffrey Epstein. His views and arguments were blown as the defense of Jeffery Epstien. All his previous controversial ‘intellectual talks’ were dug up. Due to all the negative coverage in the elite US media, Stallman was forced to resign first from MIT and then from the Free Software Foundation.

Abhishek on ItsFoss – “Good News! Richard Stallman is Back at Free Software Foundation”

I’m not sure familiar with what happened here. As a professor, why would your lecture’s focus or communication with your students be about not protesting? I go to university to learn about computers and other cool stuff, not listen to my professors give a rant to the class about politics. Unfortunately, in any job, especially in a leadership role, if you make your organization look bad to the public, you’ll be asked or forced to leave. You could say he was forced to resign for unpopular political views, or you could say he was forced to resign because he damaged the Free Software Foundation’s reputation.

Honestly, I am happy to see Stallman back at FSF. I hope the ‘cancel mob’ doesn’t come out with pitchforks in their hand to burn his career down again.

Abhishek on ItsFoss – “Good News! Richard Stallman is Back at Free Software Foundation”

Interesting opinion. I don’t think there is a coordinated ‘cancel mob’ just people calling out bad behaviors. I guess it is what it is. Some people like Stallman or think his contributions outweigh any harm he did. The more public aspect is probably what triggers people to react.

I do not want Richard Stallman’s website to be forcefully censored

To be clear, I do not want Richard Stallman to be forced to stop speaking or for his domain/host to stop working with him. Internet censorship is harmful, and unfortunately, most of the internet is controlled by a small group of companies. Most people use a social network like Twitter or to share their views. No one is entitled to a platform. Social media and websites are being used to access government resources and updates. I want to see this changed to balance the rights of all stakeholders. Below are some ideas on how people could solve this problem.

You can’t leave a domain name registry

Domain registries have become less content-neutral over the years. If you have a .COM domain you are forever stuck with Verisign, if they change their policies your only option is to buy a new domain name. Domain registrars can only be changed every 60-days and similar issues exist there. Should they be required to wait for a full 60-days and let you transfer out before canceling your service agreement? I’ve had good experiences with the Public Interest Registry (.ORG) and ISNIC (.IS). It’s becoming harder and harder to make a website free of censorship. In ten years, will any registry be safe to link to unpopular content? The future of an open and equitable internet is at stake.

Ideas for addressing illegal content

Let’s acknowledge that some content is illegal and can’t stay online, for example, underage pornography and blog posts inciting murder or making death threats. For these cases, I think the courts should be making these decisions. People could make a report to a centralized government website. A panel of always on-call judges could sign an order for an emergency suspension of a zone pending a court hearing, not domain name registries or registrars. Of course, how things should be is not how the world is. Our legal system would need considerable changes before we could have a law dictating domain name registries and registrars remain content-neutral. Given the nature of the domain name system, it’s not exactly easy to move your name to another registry. Individual web hosting providers are a different story as most websites can quickly be backed up and moved to another web host. You have a choice, and they can set their own terms of service.

The domain name system is controlled by a small group of corporations and should be governed as a utility

I worry that the domain name system is becoming too controlled by a small group of corporations and should be governed as a utility. Individual social networks can do what they want, but the domain name system ensures fair access needs to be content-neutral.

Sometimes one right is outweighed by another. What is the right balance?

Imagine if the water company stopped selling tap water to your home because you voted Democrat? People will quickly be outraged if this isn’t already illegal. Certain services are utilities, and being a private business doesn’t necessarily mean you can stop doing business with someone, given how essential it is.

Which services do you think should be treated as a utility? What compromises and policies do you think domain name registries, registrars, hosting providers, and social media platforms should have to make?

Freedom of expression goes both ways

No one can stop Richard Stallman from having or stating unpopular opinions. But it goes both ways. Trying to stop “a mob,” as people call it from calling out behavior, is an attack on their freedom of expression. The day we silence one group to protect another is the day freedom of expression ends. We can’t say protect this person’s free speech and then say this other person should have to stop saying why it’s harmful.