Richard Stallman leaves MIT and Free Software Foundation: let's summarize
A thorny issue, I admit.
Richard Stallman has resigned from his position at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) over controversy regarding his views on Jeffrey Epstein and his victims.
Stallman has also stepped down from his roles as president and board director at the Free Software Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in 1985.
Jeffrey Epstein was an American financier, convicted sex offender.
Epstein developed an elite social circle, and allegedly procured women and girls, many underage, to provide sexual services for himself and some of these contacts.
Some weeks ago, The New Yorker published documents that shows the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted.
Less than a day after the publication of the article, Joi Ito, the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, resigned from his position.
Some days after, Richard Stallman in an MIT email thread had called Epstein victim Virginia Giuffre “entirely willing”, despite Giuffre has claimed that she was being held as a slave on Epstein’s island, and there are allegations that much younger children in their early teens were also present there.
MIT alum Selam Jie Gano posted about the emails on Medium, and shared redacted copies with Motherboard: Stallman also arguing over the use of terms like rape or sexual assault to describe the situation.
Gano also published an email from Stallman where he said
“I think it is morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”
This controversial perspective creates a growing calls for his removal, and against this background Stallman tried to make some adjustments.
On the 14th, Stallman posted on his blog:
Many years ago I posted that I could not see anything wrong about sex between an adult and a child, if the child accepted it. Through personal conversations in recent years, I’ve learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically. This changed my mind about the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that enabled me to understand why.
This did not relieve calls for his resignation and on the 16th he posted:
16 September 2019 (Resignation) To the MIT community, I am resigning effective immediately from my position in CSAIL at MIT. I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations. Richard Stallman
So, what do I think?
Stallman has historical knows for his controversial statements, usually regarding software, privacy and freedom.
And despite the undeniable technical skills and everything he gave to the FSF, the resignation were necessary: Stallman was the public representative of the foundation, and the decision to take a step back will surely be useful to the public image of the FSF.