03.29.13

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Why Advocacy of Linux Must Not Tolerate Censorship

Posted in GNU/Linux at 11:27 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: A response to the growing phenomenon of gagging passionate GNU/Linux advocates in GNU/Linux circles

WHEN   the GNU/Linux system was created 30 years ago it was motivated by the belief that — as much as we may wish to control others — in order to guarantee everyone’s individual freedom we must decentralise and mitigate/neutralise remote control. Isolation between users and developers was annulled. Every user was capable of doing what a developer could. This clever ‘hacking’ of unwanted relationships between users and developers, such as the exclusivity in access to code, was removed in the licence sense.

Linux thrived owing to the adoption of licensing requirements that assure each and every contributor will retain full control over the entire system, dependants included. It sure is a motivator for many who work for FOSS-centric companies. It’s a recruitment tool, too.

If code is law, as Professor Lessig put it, then using code we can control behaviour too. If we are to honour the same principles that motivated the GNU/Linux system, then we must reject the notion of censorship, no matter the platform. Not every commit — so to speak — needs to be accepted upstream, but its existence should be allowed and its integrity honoured. Free software is about a diversity of practices, not about imposition from above or the direct and at times explicit coercion of one over another.

Over the years I have come across thin-skinned people that excuse their practice of censorship by calling those whose opinions they do not agree with “trolls”, or some of those equally insulting terms like “shills”. This labelling is being used suppress comments or writers — an issue I am familiar with as a former writer for some online news sites. My experience there taught me the role played by editors to whom controversial but otherwise truthful statement are too ‘hot’ to publish. This is how ideas get silently killed, or spiked. It manufactures the habit of self censorship — an unnecessary restraint which limits one’s scope of thinking.

Speaking for myself, I never deleted comments or suppressed replies, even though many of them (thousands among tens of thousands) included insults and sometimes libel. We must learn to tolerate opposing views and even disruption. That is what freedom is about.

In order to stay true to the standards of Linux and GNU as successful, leading projects that respect and harbour all voices we must stay true to the same principles that made Free software thrive. Failing to do so would lead us down the path of many failed projects which — unlike Linux — no longer attract volunteer contributors (who at times, in due course, found way to get paid for it as well).

Advocacy which is hinged on amplifying oneself while silencing the rest is not advocacy, it is marketing. And marketing is almost antithetical to what science-driven programming strives to achieve. In science, bad ideas die based on their merit, or lack thereof. The messengers earn or lose credibility based on their words. Let bad commentary die based on readers’ assessments. Don’t suppress it at an editorial level as that would project weakness, not strength.

Originally posted in Linux Advocates

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