Did OKCupid Help Oust Mozilla's CEO over his anti-gay marriage politics?

Thursday, April 03, 2014 - 03:11 PM

(OKCupid)

Earlier this week, OKCupid changed their site so that Firefox users, on visiting the page, wouldn't be able to view it normally. Instead, they'd get a letter from OkCupid asking them to use a different browser. Why? Because, the letter explained, Mozilla Foundation, the organization behind the Firefox browser, had recently made Brendan Eich its CEO. Eich had previously donated $1,000 to an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in California. 

Alex and I talked about writing about it, but we couldn't figure out what to say. I'm wary of stunts, and this felt like a stunt to me. Here was my thinking. Because OKCupid, as a dating site, appeals to people who are pro-gay marriage, I was suspicious that this was less about a tech company trying to dive into politics and more about an attention-grabbing stunt designed to appeal to OKCupid's target audience. 

And then, two quick things happened today. First, OKCupid took the letter down, without explanation. And then, just now, Mozilla announced that Eich will step down. Mozilla's statement makes it clear that this resignation is about Eich's gay marriage stance. 

“Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves...We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

There's still a lot we don't know here, but  I was wrong in my cynicism. It seems like OKCupid helped draw attention to an issue that people cared about, and the resultant public pressure made Mozilla change leadership. I know OKCupid wasn't alone in this, but I'm sure they weren't incidental either. 

It's funny. Of all the places on the internet where a tech company might jump into politics, you wouldn't necessarily think of dating sites first. And yet, because we're in a moment where who you can love is deeply politicized, dating sites are proving to be a bit of a culture war battleground.

On the other side of this continuum, I'm thinking also of eHarmony, who only allowed gay users in after TWO lawsuits (they created a segregated gay site first, then were compelled by a second lawsuit to merge). eHarmony's CEO has said that gay marriage "damaged his company."

The last thing I'll say about this is that I'm much more used to seeing boycotts that come from consumers or from political advocacy groups. I can't remember another time I saw a company initiate a political boycott against a company in their field. This feels different. It feels interesting.

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Comments [5]

"we're in a moment where who you can love is deeply politicized" - this is a little sloppy. Nobody's arguing about love (you could say that ended with the Lawrence ruling), but rather marriage, and whether marriage is something that is basically formalizing a commitment between two people, or formalizing a commitment to childrearing, which inevitably raises the question (at least for traditional marriage supporters) whether one arrangement is better than the other.

Apr. 05 2014 02:20 AM

OKCupid's business is brokering human couplings.

That the company's next "moral issue" isn't the defense of Polygamy would be its to deny.

Apr. 03 2014 10:13 PM

Have you read their posts? They're generally pretty funny. Also, interesting, and between the two, I've kept reading. (Well, at least when I run across them. I don't actively follow the site.)

The site presented itself generally as a means of meeting new people, not necessarily for dating purposes. In the social circles I frequented the compatibility rankings were considered pretty entertaining among people who already knew eachother - why was I a 97% match with K, but only a 81% match with S? There were various social networking features as well.

I'm not sure if OKC has generally become more strictly focused on hookups, or if it's a regional difference now that I'm no longer on the west coast and instead in the midwest. After I moved, I got a torrent of really obnoxious propositions and suspended my account.

Apr. 03 2014 06:59 PM
jhm from New York City

I find your signing up for a dating website when you aren't looking to date rather strange. In addition, how amusing you find it seems condescending to me.

Apr. 03 2014 06:29 PM

Focusing on OKCupid as a dating site is, I think, in this case missing the point, even if this is the main purpose of the site. When the site first became prominent, I, like everyone I know, got an account. Most of us weren't looking for new relationships. But it was entertaining and had good matching algorithms, and made a good net toy. Which is to say, it got geek cred pretty much from the start. (Light and frivolous geek cred, sure, but that's not a problem. Witness comicbooks.) It was free. It emphasized math. And even after I suspended my account I still read their posts analyzing their user database with a great deal of amusement.

While a dating site and a free software foundation might seem pretty far apart on the surface, culturally they're coming from pretty similar places. The OKCupid statement was one aspect of a conversation inside of open internet culture. (And Mozilla is highly respected but also highly dependent on community goodwill.)

I have a number of friends at Mozilla. I have heard that between Eich and Gervase, some people didn't find it the most comfortable environment for queer people. The people I know best have expressed disagreement with Eich, but also that his beliefs did not negatively impact their working relationship. (Note, I am bisexual myself, and some of the friends expressing the latter viewpoint are also queer.) Frankly, I think the whole thing was pretty mismanaged - the controversy was pretty easy to anticipate, and could have been ameliorated by careful action ahead of time. I was pretty impressed by Mozilla's message announcing Eich's stepping down... and some of my Mozillan friends are depressed and, I believe, getting drunk right now.

* In many ways, at least back then, almost too good. When I looked up my top ten local matches, I knew (or at least knew of) all of them and had dated six in the past.

Apr. 03 2014 04:59 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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