11.06.21

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Mastodon Has Turned Free Software Into a Mechanism by Which to Exercise Unjust Power Over Users

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, GPL at 7:00 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 1c07755d75224bf3cc6be82724fc1112

Summary: Political agenda being advanced using Free software licences contributes to this idea that Free software isn’t truly free and there are political restrictions, however subtle or implicit they may seem

THE notion of Free software and the notion of free speech are closely connected. It’s about empowering users, it’s about emancipating people. But what happens when copyleft-type licences and (A)GPL-licensed code are being turned into a mechanism of control, just like proprietary software?

This is what we’re dealing with here…

“If we’re not careful, the Free software movement will be co-opted by people who don’t care about software freedom (or care about it but covertly look to advance some other interests).”So yesterday we wrote about the EFF turning 'rogue' or becoming more and more political (and corporate) instead of focusing on its original goals. The same thing seems to have happened within some factions in the Free software movement (FSF, OSI, SFC), as some people enter those institutions mostly to advance some unrelated — and very personal — political objectives. This inevitably divides the support base where this isn’t needed (we saw that also in Mozilla and the Linux Foundation) and generally weakens — or takes out of sight — the original goals. Yesterday we mentioned the article from The Register, which incidentally had the same problem. As Wikipedia puts it: “In December 2000, Magee suffered a heart attack. When he returned to work, he stated publicly that he disagreed with the editorial direction of The Register.”

If we’re not careful, the Free software movement will be co-opted by people who don’t care about software freedom (or care about it but covertly look to advance some other interests). They can start in small numbers, but if they grow roots they will take over, exercising political censorship by weaponising licences. This is the subject of the video above. To be specific, Mastodon seems to be helping Donald Trump by giving him more publicity that he deserves and leveraging selective AGPL enforcement, which can in turn embolden more people on the right (to “own the libs”; reverse psychology).

“We’re at risk of losing the advocacy line that says something along the lines of, Free software is free as in free speech.”This isn’t the first time I write about Mastodon in the context of political meddling. I wrote about it 4 years ago [1, 2] and last year I left the Fediverse altogether, as I had already lost 3 accounts there. It’s not even a matter of “wings” (left and right), it’s just a general issue with free speech. Mastodon has been trying to impose censorship and speech restriction at the code level, taking away control from users (who can themselves block/mute instances). We’re not talking about issues like promotion of crimes (law enforcement is another aspect, e.g. death threats); we’re talking about misuse of code copyrights to promote a particular worldview, akin to so-called 'ethical' (in whose view?) source.

We’re at risk of losing the advocacy line that says something along the lines of, Free software is free as in free speech. Or about letting the users have control, rather than being controlled from above.

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