Silicon Valley Billionaire Peter Thiel Accused Of Financing Hulk Hogan's Ridiculous Lawsuits Against Gawker
from the wtf,-peter? dept
So here’s a crazy and unfortunate story. On Monday evening, the NY Times posted a rather weird story suggesting that there was someone with a grudge against Gawker funding the various lawsuits against the site, including Hulk Hogan’s multiple lawsuits (he recently filed another one, even more ridiculous than the first — which resulted in a $115 million verdict against Gawker that hopefully will get tossed on appeal). The NYT piece was weird in that it was pure innuendo — just saying that Gawker’s Nick Denton was increasingly sure that someone who really disliked the site was funding the lawsuits. It was surprising that the NY Times ran it given the lack of anything beyond speculation and rumor. And then, about 24 hours later, Forbes publishes a story saying that it’s well-known billionaire Peter Thiel funding the lawsuit (warning: Forbes’ ridiculous anti-adblock policy means you may not be able to read that article):
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. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer.
First off, it’s perhaps no surprise that Thiel is very anti-Gawker. Lots of people dislike Gawker, and many of them have really good reasons to dislike Gawker. Its Silicon Valley coverage, in particular, was often terrible and basically just wrong. Its Valleywag publication often went for snark and conspiracy over reality. In Thiel’s case, he has a much more direct reason for hating Gawker. In 2007, the publication outed him for no reason at all other than because it wanted to do so.
That said: this is insane. Thiel has his quirks, and has a reputation for supporting extreme political causes (that then, unfortunately, lead many outside of Silicon Valley to think his views are representative of the Valley), but funding a lawsuit (or possibly a series of lawsuits) that is flat out designed to undermine the First Amendment goes beyond what most people would expect. And that’s doubly true given that his lawsuits against Gawker could have serious damage on free speech on the internet. It’s one thing to hate Gawker and to wish its demise. It’s another thing entirely to fund a series of lawsuits that chill expression online.
For what it’s worth, it’s also worth noting (as both of the articles linked above do), that the same lawyer who represented Hogan, and who Thiel is allegedly paying, is also the lawyer handling Shiva Ayyadurai’s ridiculous lawsuit against Gawker, which cites the Hogan case for support. In our write-up of that ridiculous lawsuit, we noted that it looked like Ayyadurai was inspired by Hogan’s victory, but we didn’t realize that it was the same lawyer, and possibly funded from the same source.
For what it’s worth, there are questions about if other lawsuits against Gawker are also being funded by Thiel, and you have to at least wonder if that includes Chuck Johnson’s ridiculous defamation lawsuit against Gawker. As you may recall, Johnson struck out in Missouri, but filed the identical suit in California. Ayyadurai’s lawsuit cites Johnson’s lawsuit as proof of Gawker’s pattern of bad behavior, even though both lawsuits are ridiculous. But it’s also worth noting that Johnson and Thiel actually appear to have some political similarities, including both becoming strong Donald Trump supporters (Thiel is, famously, a Trump delegate, while Johnson says he’s an alternate).
As a bit of an aside, how much more terrifying is it now when you hear Trump talk about “opening up” libel laws to make it easier to sue the press — or him praising the district court win by Hogan over Gawker?
Thiel has obviously had quite a bit of success on the internet with Paypal, and then leveraging that into the first money into Facebook, along with helping to found Palantir (though that company is raising questions lately as well). He’s also funded lots of other companies and famously supported Ron Paul and certain libertarian causes. But a lawsuit against an online publication solely out of vindictiveness (even if his hatred of the publication is for perfectly valid reasons) is a terrible, terrible idea that seems to go against his supposed libertarian views. It’s also just petty and vindictive, and only cements in the misleading idea that Silicon Valley is full of ego-maniacal billionaires for whom the ends always justify the means.