Peter Thiel: The Hero We Need Right Now

But not the one we deserve

May 25, 2016

About eight-and-a-half years ago, the folks at Gawker made a big to-do about outing libertarian tech billionaire Peter Thiel. According to Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, Thiel "was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran."

Yesterday we learned the form of the destructor that Thiel chose: Hulk Hogan.

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. ... If Gawker fails in its appeal in Hogan’s first case, it may not be around much longer to explore that new focus. On top of the $140 million in total damages facing Gawker, the company has already likely accumulated millions of dollars in legal fees defending itself.

There are many delightful wrinkles to Thiel's Count of Monte Cristo-style, best-served-cold revenge. Personally, I'm excited for all the think pieces from liberal journalists concern-trolling Thiel about The True Meaning Of Libertarianism while they wring their hands about the dangers of silencing opponents of the powerful. I'm sure all of these journalists are currently working on essays defending conservative think tanks from onerous, speech-chilling subpoenas filed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They'll be published soon, I just know it.

Frankly, I'm not all that concerned about the chilling effect that Hogan's suit will have, even if it's being funded by a guy with a (perfectly reasonable) grudge. Let's not forget that Gawker got sued for publishing a private sex tape without the permission of the participants. It was pure prurience, with a newsworthiness factor of nil. The First Amendment is pretty great, but I don't know that I'm comfortable extending it to protect the cretins behind the Fappening and the Hoganing.

Make no mistake: there is a danger in the uber-rich suing news outlets that displease them (see, for instance, the harassment of Mother Jones). But Gawker would've been fine if it hadn't, well, acted like Gawker. If the biggest fallout here is that websites think twice about maliciously outing people and putting people's genitals on the Internet without their permission, well, I think the Republic will survive.