Is it acceptable to use proprietary software (platforms) to promote software freedom?

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Aug 21 09:54:50 UTC 2017

On Monday 14. August 2017 18.53.42 Mat Witts wrote:
> > Here is my position, stated as "logically" as possible.
> Okay, although I'm not sure this is the best way to approach things
> because I suspect we may be arguing about tactics, not ethics.

I don't want to prolong this apparently unwanted discussion any further, but I 
have a few thoughts. (It would perhaps have helped if Mat's messages hadn't 
been held in the moderation queue.)

> Discouraging people from using FB for example can be restated as
> 'encouraging people to use FS'.

Not necessarily. I was using Facebook for a while (because I thought that it 
would keep me "in the loop" more effectively, which it didn't) but now I don't 
use any social network technology, unless you regard mail, IRC, and various 
Web-based technologies that pre-date Facebook as "social".

So, people are not going to start using Free Software just because they 
realise that being on Facebook is a bad idea, or not personally fulfilling, or 
whatever other reason they might have. People who have no real awareness of 
the Free Software cause might take the easy "consumer culture" choice and just 
pick another proprietary service because it got some good publicity somewhere.


> I don't feel morally obliged to share and share-alike the mobile computer
> game I made for my daughter, but when I develop software for an educational
> establishment my sense of obligation ramps up a lot.

These are two different things, since you presumably don't share the game with 
anyone else at all. If you don't, you are actually touching upon the topic of 
creative works and why people might not want to share everything they create: 
a matter that some "free culture" people fail to understand. However, would 
you withhold the source code from your daughter if she were to get into 
programming at that level?


In all of this, I don't think there has been enough focus on people's basic 
needs and what we think they would be better off using. (There is also the 
matter of whether they should even be using certain technologies given various 
observations about the negative health effects of social networking on certain 

Arguably, the primary message should be about those needs and which Free 
Software solutions can address them, not about "alternatives" to proprietary 
services. Because putting the emphasis on proprietary services risks making 
them the benchmark and Free Software the pale imitation. (People really do 
love their famous brand names, sadly.)

I doubt that Facebook became successful by telling everyone how bad MySpace 
was. I also imagine that Facebook probably didn't have an account on MySpace 
for such purposes, either. It is still important to point out the flaws of 
such services, but it is arguably better if this is done as part of 
constructive, solution-oriented encouragement:

"Here is a great solution for sharing news with your family and friends. You 
can modify and share it as you like, and isn't it nice that it doesn't spy on 
you or sell your personal information?"


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