Does a CEO Have Digital Rights?

Free speech…the right to express what you think without repercussions…comes with a price tag of accountability – that is, you have to be ready to bear the full brunt of your words…no whining, whinging, kvetching or bellyaching allowed.

Being in a leadership position – like a CEO – adds weight to that accountability and, I’d argue, forces you to accept being held to a higher standard. And if the company is public? Double it….

No, this is not “true confessions” – nor am I obsessing about myself.

Rather – I was struck by the rise and fall of Brendan Eich, the two-week in-and-out CEO at Mozilla who was felled by a private donation he made in 2008. Nothing is private….

It seems that in that year he wrote a check for $1,000US to support a referendum in California, where he lived, that banned same-sex marriage. And, when the issue came up after his appointment as CEO, he dismissed the criticism on the basis of his personal rights.

Controversy mounts, he continues to stonewall and then, when it becomes clear that the issue is growing and won’t go away – he resigns and leaves the company – despite best efforts to keep him on in a technical position.

And in true Silicon Valley drama fashion – controversy drives “counterversy,” as portrayed by this quote from Geoffrey Moore, a consultant in the Valley: “The people who were criticizing Brendan were people who have advocated passionately for the rights of the oppressed… For them to turn on someone this way is wrong.”

So here is the question – I imagine there is some confluence of causes here – support the downtrodden and no doubt you also support free speech  and some measure of privacy – but is this an issue of privacy? Is there an element of free speech? Does he enter the ranks of the persecuted because of all this?

And here is where it gets personal…for me…I think about this a lot…as a CEO, you represent more than just yourself, more than just your beliefs, more than just your own personal causes. Accept the job and you have by default accepted the yoke – and it’s a heavy one that has weighed down many.

Conundrum…it was his right and belief system that led him to make that donation…he did so believing he was empowered to make that choice…yet in a company that stands for openness, transparency, free speech….he was nailed to the browser…so to speak.

Seems to me the problem is the world we live in and the rules we are creating to manage its ever-growing complexity…listen:

“We live in a Newtonian world of Einsteinian physics ruled by Frankenstein logic.”
David Russell

Having said that, though, maybe it’s no more complicated than:

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

In other words – if you want to judge someone, start with yourself…and I wonder just how many of us would pass 100% non-hypocritical muster…?  Hmmmm.

Bottom line – I think the Mozilla issue is actually way more complex and has little to do with his check – that was a convenient target that he just didn’t have the skill to remove – and after reading everything I could find on Mozilla, it’s clear that the long knives were out from the start….

However – be that as it may – the story still has me wondering…about right…

Meanwhile the yoke’s on me….

What do you think?

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