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On the good neutrality of free software

From: Lorenzo L. Ancora
Subject: On the good neutrality of free software
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 2021 21:00:05 +0000
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Hi all,
just sharing a personal reflection in broken English. I would like to preemptively sensitize you on the dangers of allowing the political exploitation of the free software community.

I think anyone who accepts that free software can be subdued to or exploited for politic endings does not deserve to represent any entity which fights for freedom and independence: whoever becomes a political tool loses any credibility in defining or supporting freedom, because their intellectual dignity is now sold. No matter the contents of the political message, software and politics should remain separated and if a software has become a political tool you should reject it, both for your dignity and for the safety of your visitors and of your collaborators.

A software has the sole task of solving a user problem and any functionality that is bound to cause further problems is by definition an anti-feature. Free software relies on the community that supports it, and if its author has behaved unprofessionally for years, abusing the popularity of his/her software for his/her own personal endings, it means that he/she has ignored the needs of the end users and the will of his/her collaborators, therefore it is legitimate - if not morally binding - to consider that such individual does not have the needs of end users at heart but only his own notoriety and therefore could concretely engage in immoral activities in future, like inserting malicious characteristics or conveying controversial if not dangerous messages. Because of automatic updates, extensions and dynamic dependencies, the FSD cannot prevent those kind of abuses once a software is approved and the only solution is to proactively reject programs from controversial authors or with a negative history.

Think about this: software can be abused to convey protest messages... in the same way that it can be abused to convey discriminatory, racist, sexist, slander, nazi, fascist messages. This is all part of politics, and so admitting political messages into software also means approving of all these things. And, in the FSD, you have to literally hit the "Approve" button.

If I hide political messages in my code, am I writing an algorithm or a political pamphlet? The answer is not obvious, but as you know I am a simple person: an algorithm decays to a political pamphlet when political thoughts are a direct consequence of reading it. In the same way a software tool decays to a tool of propaganda when the end user is forcefully exposed to political messages during any step required to use it.

So, while it is true that free software should have a place in the Free Software Directory, can we say the same for a tool of propaganda? And for a political pamphlet? Are you really approving a software... or is it instead something totally different? In reality, here the software is a red herring which distracts you from the fact that the message is the real payload you are resharing. :-)

In my opinion, there is little difference from a software published with political endings and a proprietary software, because the 4 fundamental freedoms that define free software are in this case exploited with the purpose of giving notoriety to a political message each time the source is reshared. If that's not enough, now I'll let you reflect on one thing: people who live in countries that censor access to this software and who may or may not have voted their government, run a risk every time they access the source code and that risk is caused by the political message conveyed by the author, who failed to remain professional. Consequently, I think it is fair to estimate that these users might suffer an unfair disadvantage and that for them the software is no longer free, but instead comes with disadvantages that create a situation of inequality in relation to the other users.

A similar situation occurs when the attached message is of a sexual or racial nature (those things in fact are hot politic topics), because not only is it not inherent to the purpose of the software but it inevitably damages part of the community and reduces people's trust in free software, slowing down its diffusion in the professional environments.

My point of view is not convenient, because you can always gain lots of visitors and popularity by accepting the transformation of free software into a tool to pursue side endings but it is like the egg and the hen: accepting politics in the free software community is the little egg, refusing it is the prolific hen. Doesn't everybody like hens? ;-)

I hope this crude considerations will suffice to convince you - if you are yet unsure - of the need to limit the presence of political, sexual and racial messages in the free software community, because they always do direct or indirect damage to the reputation of the entire group.

Best regards,
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