The free and open-source software (FOSS) Android repository F-Droid has issued a statement saying that it won’t distribute any apps that promote free speech social network Gab because it’s a “free speech zone” that will “tolerate all opinions.” The decision comes after other apps and websites in the Fediverse, a decentralized collection of blogging and social networking projects, have attempted to censor Gab and goes against the very nature of FOSS.
F-Droid posted a statement about its decision to block Gab apps titled “Public Statement on Neutrality of Free Software” which ironically explains why F-Droid is going against its longstanding principle of staying neutral. The statement also strangely never mentions Gab by name, even though the entire statement is clearly about Gab, and instead refers to it as “a website.”
The statement starts by positioning Gab’s commitment to free speech and diverse opinions as a bad thing:
“To recap the situation: a website joined the fediverse only half a month ago that is well known to be a “free speech zone”, meaning it claims to tolerate all opinions. While in theory this might seem to be a good concept, it has serious consequences: things like racism, sexism, verbal abuse, violent nationalist propaganda, discrimination against gender and sexual minorities, antisemitism and a lot more things become popular on such instances.”
Further on in the statement, F-Droid says that as its ninth birthday approaches, it will be abandoning its history of staying neutral in order to censor Gab:
“F-Droid as a project soon celebrates its 9th birthday. In these 9 years, F-Droid’s mission was and is to create a place where people could download software they can trust – meaning only free, libre and open source software is available on its flagship repository. As a project, it tried to stay neutral all the time. But sometimes, staying neutral isn’t an option but instead will lead to the uprise of previously mentioned oppression and harassment against marginalized groups. We don’t want and won’t support that. F-Droid is taking a political stance here. F-Droid won’t tolerate oppression or harassment against marginalized groups. Because of this, it won’t package nor distribute apps that promote any of these things. This includes that it won’t distribute an app that promotes the usage of previously mentioned website, by either its branding, its pre-filled instance domain or any other direct promotion.”
F-Droid then goes on to say that “moderation” is necessary to prevent “oppression and harassment” from flourishing. This decision by F-Droid is the latest example of censorship that Gab has faced since joining the Fediverse. Prior to the F-Droid ban, numerous Fediverse apps have blocked connections to Gab servers and Google has also said that Gab’s app will be banned from the Google Play Store on July 19 unless it complies with an impossible list of demands.
The censorship Gab has faced from those in the Fediverse directly conflicts with the Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software which people in this community supposedly uphold. Most notably, censoring Gab goes against the first of these freedoms – “the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.”
Since Gab is the largest node in the Fediverse and recently passed 1 million users, welcoming Gab would likely have provided F-Droid and other developers in the Fediverse with a huge boost in new users. However, they seem willing to sacrifice both the freedoms of free software and potential user growth in order to censor Gab.
Despite this wave of censorship from F-Droid and others, some app developers are staying true to the freedoms of free software and supporting connections to Gab’s servers.
Gab has responded to F-Droid’s decision by branding them as cowards and announcing plans to fork F-Droid’s repository.