Richard Stallman’s return to the board of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), from which he parted ways less than two years ago, has not been well received.
Following word that Stallman – who resigned from the FSF amid an outcry over his offensive remarks, past behavior, and troubling opinions – had returned to the fold, open source organizations and members of the technical community responded with disbelief and dismay.
Even the official Twitter account for the FSF, an organization founded by Stallman in 1985, appeared to be taken aback by the man’s return:
No LibrePlanet organizers (staff or volunteer), speakers, award winners, exhibitors, or sponsors were made aware of Richard Stallman’s announcement until it was public.
— Free Software Fndn. (@fsf) March 23, 2021
The board of directors of the Open Source Initiative, amid its own electoral snafu, marked the occasion by declaring that Stallman should never again hold a leadership position in the free and open source software community.
“The Open Source Initiative calls upon the Free Software Foundation to hold Stallman responsible for past behavior, remove him from the organization’s leadership and work to address the harm he caused to all those he has excluded: those he considers less worthy, and those he has hurt with his words and actions,” the OSI board said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We will not participate in any events that include Richard M. Stallman and we cannot collaborate with the Free Software Foundation until Stallman is removed from the organization’s leadership.”
Funding cut off
James Grimmelmann, professor of digital and information law at America’s Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School, penned a lengthy post announcing he’ll no longer donate to the FSF and will have nothing further to do with the organization while Stallman is associated with it.
Decrying Stallman’s “long history of creating a hostile environment for women,” Grimmelmann said he had hoped Stallman’s resignation in September 2019 would prompt the free software movement to repudiate its past toxicity. But Stallman’s return has dashed that hope.
“Stallman’s announcement shows that the FSF as an organization has learned nothing from #metoo, and has squandered the opportunity for critical reflection his resignation provided,” he wrote. “…Reinstating Richard Stallman is a slap in the face to [the free software advocates who take the vision of software freedom seriously] and a betrayal of the trust they have extended.”
Code internship body Outreachy also announced it was cutting ties over the issue.
Chicago-based security firm Bad Packets announced via Twitter that it had terminated its relationship with the FSF.
“We are shocked and concerned about the news surrounding Richard Stallman’s return to the Free Software Foundation,” the biz said. “His behavior is completely unacceptable and he has no place in the free software movement.”
Tim Watts, a member of Parliament in Australia, condemned the attempted comeback, saying Stallman’s “unrepentant views have no place in any community that wants to build an inclusive place for all its members.”
The Organization for Ethical Source had a similar take in a statement issued in response to Stallman’s reinstallation. “Inviting Stallman to return to the leadership position he left in disgrace is unquestionably a spectacular moral failure,” the group said.
“This decision by the FSF makes it clear that the Four Freedoms of FLOSS are not a sufficient ethical framework for preventing harm in our communities, our industry, and the world at large.”
It’s time to end support for men in positions of power and authority who have a history of mistreating women and making them uncomfortable
In a message to The Register, Katie Moussouris, CEO of Luta Security, echoed remarks from many other women in the technical community.
“It’s time to end support for men in positions of power and authority who have a history of mistreating women and making them uncomfortable,” said Moussouris. “His contributions to open source ideas are not an excuse for decades of forcing unwanted attention upon young women around him. Nobody can measure the impact of all the women he’s driven out of contributing to computing because of his actions over the years.”
Then there’s the open letter with well over 200 signatories from the technical community calling for the entire FSF board to step aside and for Stallman to depart.
“There has been enough tolerance of RMS’s repugnant ideas and behavior,” the letter stated. “We cannot continue to let one person ruin the meaning of our work. Our communities have no space for people like Richard M. Stallman, and we will not continue suffering his behavior, giving him a leadership role, or otherwise holding him and his hurtful and dangerous ideology as acceptable.”
The Register asked the FSF for comment, and we’ve not heard back. We also attempted to contact Stallman, whose email autoresponder indicates that it generally takes between 24 and 48 hours for him to respond to inquiries. ®