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

Mat Witts admin at
Tue Aug 22 14:47:10 UTC 2017

> 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).

Human ingenuity I find has a canny knack of redefining things (and
'development' most often is in favour of the dominant idea - in this
case - 'global capital') so this was more about the
definition/articulation of FSFE's goals under such uncertain terms and

I wanted to illustrate that the problem with the way the FSFE goals are
often articulated dogmatically - in this negative way - is not
consistent with the four freedoms whereas the second positive goal may
also not be in the eyes of those that (for example) believe that FSFE's
aims should only be accomplished using FS - because it's the only way to
avoid critical self-defeat.

However, the positive form does benefit from allowing the promotion of
FSFE goals on both non-free and free platforms, which from the
perspective of the practicalities of political campaigning for FS will I
predict will be more effective simply because of the 'visibility' aspect.

The reality is of course we need (and have) individuals that promote
both versions and that's fine by me. But on the narrow question about
the FSFE political campaigning methods - any policy on that ought not to
extend to our individual free choice to refuse those methods, likewise
if the FSFE were to adopt a policy of refusing non-free platforms (I
think like the FSF?) I wouldn't expect that choice to extend to
individual FSFE members own choices which may be different in some cases.

I am sure none of the FS campaigning orgs are considering banning people
for using non-free software? I hope not, but that would be the
consequence of maintaining a very hard line on topics like this I think.

So, the confusion is that a policy decision made by the FSFE ought to be
made on what's best for the FSFE, not best for any individual member.
Hopefully this potential conflict will often match both - but on the
issue of promoting FSFE on FB, I don't think there is much to be said
for refusing to engage on FB at that level while this ought not to be
seen as a signal or endorsement of the platform.

If it sounds illogical/inconsistent/confusing that's because reality is
just like this. The individual campaigning around that will have to be
creative... a number of tactics could be used I think for people expert
in PR...

>> So, people are not going to start using Free Software just because
they realise that being on Facebook is a bad idea [...]

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?
So, as a general rule I don't think it is controversial to suggest a lot
of people who become interested in FS eventually attenuate their use of
FB to almost zero so the pressure must be on getting people interested
in Free Software surely, whether it's on FB or at our local brand of

While I applaud those that entertain the idea that we should only talk
about FS in publicly owned spaces like parks, I'm happy that people are
prepared to loosen their principles and talk about FS in the marketplace
of non-free too...

I see sofware use as an 'ecology' not so much as an ideology. There are
some in the FS movement that have a zero tolerance on proprietary
software as an ideological principle. Often (but not always) I agree
there is good reason for this, especially in public administration,
health, education and possibly a few other sectors.

However, there are plenty of scenarios where proprietary software isn't
ideal but may be tolerable... social media may be one - but it depends
on a lot of other factors - the moral and legislative context of
individual consent vs. public health and safety and so forth.
> 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

Yes, ontologically I agree my daughter is very different to an
educational establishment which is why i gave them as an example. I
think these two things demand different approaches to software licensing
and within the four freedoms this right to develop software privately
has to be included. Private property rights then seem to be contained
within the four freedoms and I have yet to encounter anyone who is able
to convince me otherwise, but I am open to being persuaded.

>> would you withhold the source code from your daughter if she were to
get into programming at that level?

Who knows? My point is that to be morally consistent (if that is
important - and I think it is) individuals (partnerships, cooperatives,
non-profits and commercial companies) must have that right to create
software and keep it secret under the four freedoms as a matter of
principle - something many FS advocates don't agree with it seems.

>> 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.)

yes, that might be better... not sure... although 'needs' is still very
consumer-oriented? Software development for me ought to be studied in
the context of the humanities as well as STEM since arts graduates often
come better equipped with social critiques than maths graduates?

>> 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?

>> 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?

>> "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.

My current view is it is NOT inconsistent with the FSFE aims/goals, and
it is advantageous in many ways to increase exposure to the FS message.

I think posting creatively and sensitively on non-free platforms like FB
and twitter is an important part of the FSFE's marketing mix and should
be carried out and reviewed annually - until such time as it becomes
ineffective/redundant/.../... (insert negative adjective)

I suppose the remaining question is: What does everyone else think?


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