Dating website OKCupid is protesting Mozilla’s controversial new CEO hire by sending a direct message to Firefox users Monday. OKCupid’s protest heightens political awareness in support of marriage equality, while highlighting new questions about activism’s relationship with open Internet access.
Firefox users trying to access the site were greeted with a message urging them to use other browsers such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome and to stop supporting Mozilla products. “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid,” the company wrote in its missive posted in place of the site’s homepage.
The protest comes a week after Mozilla, which runs the world’s second most popular browser, promoted its co-founder Brendan Eich to CEO, who donated $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8 campaign banning same-sex marriage in 2008. Since his appointment, three Mozilla executives have resigned and the company has struggled to contain a firestorm of criticism and boycotts calling for Eich’s dismissal.
Mozilla’s new program development director, Ben Moskowitz, has taken to Twitter, calling OKCupid’s protest a result of “moral panic” threatening the “open Web and disregarding the hard work of thousands fighting against corporate control.” Regardless of whether OKCupid’s brand of dissent raises questions of compromising Internet freedom, the site’s protest reaffirms how much tech companies’ influence civic engagement.
Political activism from tech companies has become an increasingly popular way to raise awareness for hot button issues. In 2012, hundreds of sites, such as Wikipedia, led a Web-wide blackout by suspending access to their sites for 24 hours to protest the Stop Online Privacy and Protect IP Acts. As a result, millions of Web users became aware of the proposed bills, which could have allowed media companies to shut down sites suspected of copyright infringement. Earlier this year, instead of a blackout, tech companies and websites posted banners asking users to pressure Congress members to limit the National Security Agency’s surveillance program during “The Day We Fight Back” protests honoring tech activist Aaron Swartz.
This time, OKCupid only targeted Firefox users instead blocking access to the site as a whole. In doing that, OKCupid strays from more common online political activism that’s usually limited to individual sites, not browsers. Even though OKCupid users can still click through to the site in Firefox, the company’s approach actively puts the user in the middle of the debate, essentially asking them to choose a position: “If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site. However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OKCupid,” according to the statement.
OKCupid and other social networking sites are deeply entrenched in millions of people’s daily lives, putting them in a prime position to influence users. Facebook, for instance, has had huge success exploiting friend networks to boost voter turnout, and research shows 30 percent of Americans get their news from their Facebook feeds, making it an ideal medium to spread issue awareness. Nearly 40 percent of self-proclaimed activists use sites like Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness and contact government officials, according to a Pew Research study. These sites have also taken a stand on the divisive issue of government censorship. After Turkey recently banned Twitter, the site publicly announced ways users could circumvent it. Google recently alerted Chinese users to government censorship of certain sites by displaying a warning message.