Why Richard Stallman is Right

A few months ago, I was dragged along by my husband to see a strange, scruffy fat man with a beard speak in a strange place called Conway Hall, in Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury.

I didn’t know much about him, although I had seen this:

The clip is funny in a gross kind of way, although I feel a bit disrespectful showing it now I  know a bit more about the foot nibbler – the one and only Richard Stallman.

Stallman is a pioneer, a non conformist and a speaker of unpalatable truths. He is most famous for creating the GNU Project, a free operating system and is one of the pioneers of the free software movement. Stallman doesn’t hold back; for example, when Steve Jobs died, he wrote this:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.” Nobody deserves to have to die — not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

Stallman hates Apple products because everything about them is a closed system – you can only run Apple approved software on Apple products. He sees Apple as digitally handcuffing their users and sees the smooth exteriors of Apple’s products as masking a sinister agenda to control the user.

Stallman has a particular loathing for the iphone; he calls it the “spy-phone” because it (like any mobile phone) acts as a tracking device for the user – not a million miles away from the electronic tags worn by offenders. Except that we choose to carry our phones. Anyone who wants to know where you are can track you using your phone – it is for this reason that Stallman refuses to carry one.

So why am I thinking about Stallman today? I’ve got to finish off my Internet Cultures essay and I think Stallman will weave neatly into the conclusion.  His thoughts about Facebook are spot on – again in the news when it was floated on the stock exchange last week at the price of $38 per share. If Zuckerberg was rich before, he’s even richer than ever now – he’s now worth an estimated £12.2 billion.

It will come as no surprise to any of you that Stallman absolutely loathes and detests Facebook with a passion.

He writes of the site:

Facebook is not your friend. Its “real name” policy is enough reason to refuse to use it, but there is so much more nastiness in Facebook. I don’t use it, and you shouldn’t either.

Stallman hates Facebook because it tracks its users and fundamentally sees them as fodder for advertisers. He also hates the way it stores everything you post – even stuff you have deleted – putting the users privacy at risk. He mentions how the site deleted a list of British anti-cuts organizations (TRUE) and also deleted a picture of two men kissing – this was in reference to a page protesting about a pub that treated gays badly.

Here’s Stallman’s website if you want to know more about him – he also has a crack against Amazon and the Kindle (which he nicknames the ‘Swindle’)

To return to Facebook. Stallman sees it as pro-censorship and anti-free speech. It is not to be trusted and ideally totally avoided.

I totally buy into what Stallman was saying, but I would find giving up my addiction very, very hard. I gave up smoking very easily when pregnant nearly eight years ago and then for good nearly five years ago when the habit crept back. But could I give up Facebook? Part of the attraction of blogging was the thought that it might make Facebook less attractive.


I write the blog and then go straight to Facebook to share it, waiting eagerly for people to click “LIKE” and make nice comments about it.  I use Facebook to organize my social life, arrange play dates for the kids, for campaigning, for having a laugh, you name it.

Richard Stallman would be disgusted. I know he’s right as well but still find it hard to stay away from the site.

What does that say about me? What does that say about all of us?

I have my theory that the combination of wall to wall reality TV, celebrity ‘confessions’ in magazines and newspapers, tweets and status updates has rendered us into a nation – or even a world – of exhibitionists. Brought up on instant gratification (encouraged by advertising, consumer culture and the whole ethos of capitalism) we are in a permanent state of infantile neediness.

We want, we want and we want and we are almost permanently disappointed with our work, our relationships, our body image – you name it. So we seek solace in constant attention seeking; we are all toddlers stamping and screaming in an attempt to get noticed. We want approval and validation and the constant feedback loop of Facebook (or Twitter) feels like the real deal.

These sites fulfill such a basic human need that sadly the wise words of Richard Stallman tend to fall on deaf ears. Which is a shame, because he’s right.

Off to post this on Facebook now.

Reese, you should be ashamed of yourself!

This entry was published on May 20, 2012 at 9:56 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Why Richard Stallman is Right

  1. Thanks for the write-up; I hope that people who read this and agree with RMS’s ideas will support the Free Software Foundation. Even if you find it very hard to break your addiction to these services and software right now, joining the FSF as a donating member is one way to help make a future where freedom is the default :).

    John Sullivan

    Executive Director, FSF

  2. Spot on! I rant on these points myself quite regularly.

  3. No-One on said:

    Stallman is right! No doubt about that.

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