Mozilla CEO's exit — in the age of workers empowered by social media

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich has stepped down after a social media-fueled controversy over a political donation he made years ago to Proposition 8, an initiative that banned gay marriage in California but has since been struck down.

There’s plenty of analysis about the implications of this high-profile resignation, especially about trying to strike a balance between equality and free speech. As Mitchell Baker, chairman of the maker of the Firefox browser, said in her announcement Thursday, “figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Michelle Quinn wrote on SiliconBeat last week that Eich’s $1,000 donation didn’t sit well within Mozilla a couple of years ago, but the company was able to keep the Twitter-storm at bay; the JavaScript creator was chief technology officer at the time. But after he was promoted to CEO less than two weeks ago, the revolt became impossible to contain. This is the age of social media, and Mozilla employees took to Twitter to voice their displeasure — and even asked for Eich to step down.

“What happened at Mozilla … is remarkable,” Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, told MarketWatch in an article — published before Eich’s resignation — that mentioned a new study about the rise of employee activism in the age of social media. Many others feel freer to speak their minds — such as users of online services, for example — and so do employees.

 

Not all workers can speak out against, disparage (or even offend) their employers without consequence; as Michelle Quinn writes for the Mercury News, Mozilla has “put itself forward as the Internet’s moral voice,” among other things it has advocated for openness on the Web. After Eich’s exit, Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s (CDT), told Quinn: They responded to their community voice. That’s how they are constructed, of the community, for the community.”

But many companies don’t claim to be so enlightened. As we’ve written,  some employees have been fired for what they’ve said or done — such as Like an opposing candidate’s Facebook page — on social media. However, at least a couple of them have also won their appeals of those firings. And the National Labor Relations Board has reportedly been pushing employers to lean toward free speech when crafting their social media policies. As employers answer that call, top executives will be held accountable for their political and moral stances — rightly or wrongly — as more workers feel empowered to voice their discontent on Twitter and elsewhere.

 

Photo of Brendan Eich by Darcy Padilla/Mozilla

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (3903 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay (at) bayareanewsgroup (dot-com).