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

Paul Boddie paul at
Tue Aug 22 15:47:15 UTC 2017

On Tuesday 22. August 2017 16.47.10 Mat Witts wrote:
> > > Discouraging people from using FB for example can be restated as
> > >'encouraging people to use FS'.
> > 
> > Not necessarily.
> The (logical:-/) *necessity* of leaving FB to use FS wasn't a point I
> was making as far as I can see, and I wouldn't be keen to pursue it
> because with more and more software being made available of all kinds
> the situation clearly isn't a 'zero-sum game' (so to speak).

Well, I wasn't arguing that persuading people to leave Facebook would be a 
gain for Free Software. This was something you stated, perhaps speculating on 
how some people might think: that in this zero-sum game, people leaving 
Facebook will have to choose something else to fill the void, and if you keep 
persuading them, eventually they will find Free Software.

I just wanted to point out that you can stop using Facebook and choose 
*nothing* instead. I also don't think that focusing on the things we don't 
like is a great strategy, but I must have written that several times already.


> Indeed, that's one permutation. Another one is people are not going to
> start using Free Software - full stop. We have to get used to that
> reality, over-zealous optimism for our cherished FS may drive some
> people away, people that would otherwise stay and listen to us perhaps?

That is why I suggest promoting solutions rather than just ideas. It's not 
sufficient to say that Free Software is great and then, when asked what to 
use, tell people that it is up to them because there are so many choices, or 


> > I doubt that Facebook became successful by telling everyone how bad
> > MySpace was.
> I would have to question the deployment of the words 'became successful'
> here - 'made a lot of money' might be more accurate?

Of course it is about money and control. Those wanting both of these things 
got their success.

> > I also imagine that Facebook probably didn't have an account on
> > MySpace for such purposes, either.
> Good point, although I don't think it's instructive to compare the
> motivations of the advocates of FB with the motivations of FS advocates
> and plenty of reasons to think the motivations are divergent and
> possibly antithetical?

The point here is perhaps that Facebook had enough confidence in their own 
product to not feel that they had to engage with (or indulge, or validate) 
their competitor's product. One might claim that this luxury no longer applies 
to Facebook's competitors, but this would need further scrutiny and should not 
be merely accepted as fact.

(Indeed, the dangerous thing for society now is that everyone from 
politicians, "traditional" media, and other figures of power downwards feels 
that they "must" be on services like Facebook. But it becomes increasingly 
like a circus pandering to the angry mob whose *supposed* demands must be 
indulged: a fake democracy.)

> > "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?"
> Yes of course, but the thread here (as far as I understand it) is quite
> a narrow scope - it's about if we think it's okay for the FSFE to post
> those messages on FB or not.

Well, referring to what I wrote above, it is all very well for the FSFE (or a 
campaign, or supporters) telling people on Facebook that there are 
alternatives, maybe mentioning negative things about Facebook or maybe not, 
but if all those people who are supposedly seeing this message then go and 
investigate the Free Software alternatives and don't get a coherent picture of 
what they might be using instead, then the exercise will end up being a waste 
of everyone's time.

And posting soundbites (as they inevitably are) on proprietary social media 
channels without there being any substance for people to investigate 
conveniently will just give people a negative impression: they will think that 
it is just posturing and time-wasting being performed. Of course, one might 
say that this is what a lot of the popular social media services are about, 
but such perceptions could contaminate the reputation of the FSFE.

On the other hand, building up a coherent message about Free Software 
solutions and how people might interact using them instead of proprietary 
services would be beneficial regardless of whether anyone is sent onto 
Facebook to try and get the message across.


P.S. I noticed that you had a vacation message which was being sent to people 
posting to the list. Maybe that was causing you to be moderated, but it might 
be a good idea to adjust these notifications in future.

More information about the Discussion mailing list