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Peter Thiel, Comic Book Hero (stratechery.com)
46 points by dwaxe on May 26, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Gawker broke the law.

And, their whole business model seems to have been predicated upon the ability to victimise people who have no recourse. Not even Hulk Hogan had the money to fight back against them.

Given this, the argument that Thiel's ability to endanger Gawker because of his money is a dangerous precedent is completely hypocritical. Gawker is the precedent for money allowing you to ruin other people's lives.

They acted the way they did because they thought they were untouchable. Their millions made them untouchable. This is why Gawker was able to ruin people's lives with legal impunity.

That is also why Thiel's billions will be able to destroy them.

Whoever wrote this seems to care now that Gawker is legally defenceless, but doesn't seem to recognise that this is exactly the state that their victims were originally in.

It's shameful.

Agreed. The problem isn't that Thiel supported Hogan in his trial, it's that it was necessary for someone like Thiel to do so in order for a victim of Gawker to get justice.

Many people don't have an "angel" like that to ensure they get justice.

its possible to find much fault with Thiel's tactics while also finding Gawker reprehensible.

Yes, but finding tactics reprehensible won't change the tactics of powerful people and organisations.

One can consistently dislike how the justice system is controlled by money, but one can't consistently take sides between Gawker and Thiel. They are both acting within the limits of the same system - it just so happens that Thiel is the bigger fish.

If the justice system wasn't run with money, then Gawker wouldn't have been able to threaten people with less resources than them, and Thiel would not have been able to threaten Gawker.

Whether or not Gawker broke the law is what is being adjudicated -- it's not clear-cut.

While I agree with your points you're kind of missing the bigger one. Lots of media outlets break the law. The problem here is that one company who broke the law got punished by a billionaire because they were kinda mean to him. To me this is very bizarre.

It seems good to me. Peter Thiel did a public service. Lawbreakers were punished without tax payer dollars because they did the wrong thing. It's how the system is supposed to work and an impartial judge found in favor.

Right, but my point is that there are a lot of lawbreakers who will not be punished at all because they were not "not nice" to a billionaire.

I guess I'm in favor of "all companies breaking the law should be punished" versus "billionaires should selectively bankroll cases against companies that broke the law if that company isnt nice to them". I think people aren't seeing the bigger picture here.

Sure, it's bizarre that justice has to happen this way.

But you can't honestly think a big media company like Gawker should be allowed to break the law and humiliate others just because their money protects them from their victim's getting any justice?

"But you can't honestly think a big media company like Gawker should be allowed to break the law and humiliate others just because their money protects them from their victim's getting any justice?"

I don't believe that at all. I just find it really troubling that Gawker (who deserved to be brought to justice) was only brought to justice because they were kind of mean to a billionaire once and because of this that billionaire bankrolled a lawsuit against them.

Kind of shitty that "justice" comes at the will of spiteful billionaires is all I'm saying. OF COURSE Gawker deserved everything they got. No argument there.

It doesn't matter how many media outlets break the law. If the law is bad, it should be changed but if it isn't and the media outlets break the law, they should be held accountable.

At its core, this is a slippery-slope argument. The world will go on without Gawker. Even they, like nearly every other media entity, were already really deferential to billionaires. Gawker just had this particular idiosyncratic and nasty exception to that overall deference, and now they're seeing the results of that exception. Real criticism of the billionaires was never going to come from this quarter.

I happen to merely be a hundred-aire, so take this FWIW, but I don't understand what Thiel being a billionaire matters. It seems natural for someone to want to use the power within their means to right a wrong (in their view). Not that I could relate, but I can imagine being outed would make me pretty spiteful as well - unsure what his wealth has to do with that.

It matters mainly because we have come to the point where you need to be very rich to pursue justice. If Gawker wronged you, as a hundredaire, you're just SOL.

I think much of the anger at Thiel is really misplaced anger at a justice system seemingly built with the goal of enriching lawyers. Government's one job is to provide justice: why should people have to rely on private funding for it?

Agree with the first part. I was mainly referring to why is it ok to out him because he's a billionaire - doesn't seem to be in the public's best interest, regardless of one's status.

Similar to the argument Gawker made about the tape - I don't want (or need) to see a HH sex tape any more than one of my neighbor.

Nothing I wrote indicated that it was, "ok to out him because he's a billionaire". TFA doesn't explicitly advance that proposition, but that's the subtext. Meanwhile, reasonable people would like to see some media entity that is not deferential to billionaires, with respect to important topics. So long as its only focus is the sexuality of semi-famous dudes, Gawker is not that entity.

The problem here isn't Peter Thiel destroying Gawker, because this was a case where Gawker did do wrong and was found liable for damages. In effect, Thiel paid for Hogan's lawyer the way the government pays for criminal defendants' lawyers.

The problem is when a different billionaire uses the same tactics to bankroll much less meriotorious lawsuits against media that hold them accountable, not media that publish sex tapes. This isn't theoretical, it happened to Mother Jones.

It's a problem with the property of the legal system that it can be weaponized against someone who has done nothing wrong, as well as the ability to bankroll this weaponization secretly.

Would you say that Peter Thiel was "a blueprint" for what happened to Mother Jones? It seems like the system has worked like this for a long time.

So I don't really agree with Thiel here.

But fundamentally, the issue here isn't Thiel. It's the laws he is exploiting to muzzle truthful speech by Gawker [1]. We've had a variety of laws created to protect Jennifer Lawrence and other sympathetic females. Those laws would also have protected Carlos Danger, had they been in force when he was tweeting dick pics. Those laws are a danger to our society.

Me on the topic, a few years ago: https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2013/defending_hunter_moo...

That said, this is a very interesting article. It's definitely bringing up an interesting issue, that centralized manipulation of public opinion (and hence democracy) is becoming easier - definitely one of the many flaws with democracy, I'd say. The willingness of the public to participate in cathedral-instigated lynch mobs of this sort is also troubling.

I wish I could think of a good way forward.

[1] I never thought I'd be the one defending Gawker. I want them to die. But I'm more afraid of laws stifling free speech than Gawker, although watching Gawker in action has made me become more afraid of free speech than I was before.

This isn't a new law. There are no new laws being made here. This is a good application of a law.

If there is a bad application of a law then protest the law. Pragmatism is the only short term solution and Thiel acted pragmatically.

I am glad that a precedent has been affirmed that leaking video of my private actions and spending ad dollars to share it would be punishable by law.

This is an application of anti-revenge porn laws which were made around the time I wrote my blog post. I should have been clearer.

I'm generally very suspicious of pragmatism - it's very often a cheap excuse to do whatever makes us feel good or seems convenient at the time. I totally understand that instinct, particularly in this case. I think Thiel is awesome (I generally want Thiel to be our reigning monarch) and I absolutely detest Gawker and think organizations like it (together with their public enablers) are one of the most dangerous social forces in our society.

It's just that on principle, I'm really unable to convince myself that this is the right thing.

I'm not sure why Gawker wants to pick a fight in public against a chess master with a Stanford JD with huge cache of ammunition in the form of cash.

Gawker did it in the name of free speech by digging up privacy and slandering? Unfortunately being a digital gossip site does not mean it will be exempt from being sued like traditional gossip media such as national enquirer.

And both ancient and modern law codes are on the side of privacy against slandering, rather than on the side of abusing media power in the name of free speech, dated all the way back to the Code of Hammurabi. And suing Gawker is like an high ROI of no-brainer and an act of public service as there are so many precedents of like Hulk Hogan's case.

If Thiel actually felt that he was acting in a just and above board way to address a wrong, it's hard to understand why he has been skulking about secretly funding this take down.

It is implausible at best to believe that anyone with an actual principled commitment privacy to would have backed Palantir and Facebook.

> If Thiel actually felt that he was acting in a just and above board way to address a wrong, it's hard to understand why he has been skulking about secretly funding this take down.

Are you really that naive?

If you want to take down a news organization, the last thing you want to do is announce your plans if you're taking on an organization as ruthless as Gawker. I've watched small town newspapers masterfully destroy good people's careers who literally did nothing wrong. The newspapers simply sacrificed innocent people to sell more papers.

There is no fair and open forum when taking on a news organization.

... Facebook doesn't post things people don't want posted on there. There's a whole different level between "mines data people put on the site" and "posts sex tape against someone's will". Facebook makes an explicit agreement with the user.

Palantir is a bit different but the real problem would be with the scope of what it's customers are allowed to use it for and that can be solved by laws and courts as well. If you think they are breaking the law and causing a disservice find a lawyer, establish damages and you can make lots of money.

It's common for most people to not publicize they are involved in lawsuits - in any role - unless necessary. Nobody posts "going to bankruptcy court today" or "paying for my daughter's DUI lawyer" openly.

It's implausible to believe you don't see the difference between Facebook offering a photo upload service and Gawker stealing and uploading a sex tape.

If Thiel hadn't kept it a secret, it could have affected the trial. I think that alone is a perfectly good reason for keeping the involvement secret.

I'd have taken it to my grave. I would have done it by arranging for an innocuous face (Milo, one of the usual suspects so they wouldn't suspect a thing) to organize a collection drive to help Hogan, and of course Terry would have obtained a marvelous anonymous contribution. If you do get found out then the 'democratic' nature of a fundraiser will defuse some of the blowback.

I understand that he wanted to provide a deterrent against further Gawkers but their people have a tendency to play dirty e.g. serious blackmail and more importantly their fellow travelers in the media establishment will back Gawker as a member of their tribe by sabotaging you later. They'll do nothing for a while and then all pile on at once to generate a big fuss. I'd make a plan to have full video/audio recordings of everywhere I go. There's also a risk they will go after people you know or try to damage you by association (my guess would be on this route).

Thiel is probably deft enough to avoid being ensnared by them but this kind of thing is distracting when you could be doing something useful intend of fending off social justice crazies all the time.

> In this case, no matter how badly Thiel was personally hurt by Gawker, or how morally wrong their actions were, he is the one with far greater power, and the appropriate approach is not to leverage said power in an act of vigilantism, but to exercise the responsibility of defending the conditions that made his power possible to emerge, conditions that I believe are to the long-term benefit of everyone.

One could argue that is exactly what he is doing. He is fighting for civility.

Gawker is gossip trash and cultural garbage. it needs to go. Kudos to Their regardless of his reason to take it down.

Funny how everyone thinks that if Gawker the company goes bankrupt, it means Gawker the profitable website is going away.

Gawker is postmodern culture garbage, it needs to go. they've created several media controversies for just clickbait fun and this type of journalism is dangerous, I don't care about the reason for Theil's motives but he's only doing the world a favor

Are you joking? This piece is childish. Gawker released a private sex tape and has a history of spreading rumors that do nothing to advance the knowledge of the citizenry. Peter Thiel helped pay to ensure their actions were aired in an impartial court.

Wired its actually scared because they're a similar website with a similar business model

In that situation I hold position that will not be liked by the two main camps:

1. Mr Thiel is right. The US has adversarial system, and taking donations for defense funds has been common. He is doing the same for reasons of his own. On a larger scale.

2. The party that publishes true information that they are under no obligation to keep secret should not be held responsible. Find the original leaker of the info and sue him. Yeah it will empower the scum of the earth. But it will also empower all kinds of activists and people that fight the elite in that new gilded age we live in.

What irks me is that most of the news articles are highlighting the "sex tape" aspect of this story.

Hulk Hogan had consensual sex with a woman. She was married, but her husband also consented to this. Gawker released the video. This embarrassed Hulk Hogan, but ultimately doesn't damage his credibility as a pro wrestler. People probably already assumed that Hulk Hogan has sex.

So, the video did cost him his job, but that had nothing to do with the sex. Instead, he was fired for his racist tirade in that very same video.

So, by claiming that this whole thing is about a "sex tape" clearly paints a picture of Hulk Hogan as a victim. But, the realization that what really damaged him was his racist rant, then suddenly it does seem like Gawker was reporting something newsworthy.

> But, the realization that what really damaged him was his racist rant, then suddenly it does seem like Gawker was reporting something newsworthy.

Gawker didn't report the racist tirade. The tape that had the racist tirade on it was not published by Gawker.

You can hardly say that they were reporting something newsworthy about his racism when the evidence proves this wasn't the case.

However, there is certainly some truth in saying that Hogan was fearful of the other tape being released by Gawker, and therefore much more willing to sue in relation to the illegal release of his sex tape.

regardless of what he is, he's allowed to say shit in private. it's called freedom of speech. his privacy is however, protected.

"What makes you qualified to be a reporter?"

"I'm willing to violate anyone's privacy for my personal gain, then claim with a straight face that 'the public has a right to know.'"

These remind me of the tabloids I see in the supermarket aisle - There might be some shred of truth there ("W" Bush meeting with aliens might explain a lot) but mostly its the same hyped up headlines and empty content as we see with these "10 things ..." publishers.

They have to monetize somehow, I suppose, though it happens to be very scummy. As deplorable as Gawker is, and I do not in any way condone their actions (personally, I think their reporting is tabloid tier garbage), it is vital that we have a functioning free press that can publish unpopular viewpoints. Even if what's being published is distasteful, racist, or alarming.

As far as I am aware, no state or federal authorities are involved here, so freedom of the press is still intact. Freedom of the press doesn't mean you get to say whatever you want.

Additionally, at what point does "very scummy" become a civil offense? Why not ask a judge (and/or jury) and let them decide.

While in theory that may be true, in practice, if a sufficiently deep-pocketed person can shut down media outlets they dislike it still seems troubling.

> Additionally, at what point does "very scummy" become a civil offense? Why not ask a judge (and/or jury) and let them decide.

Because the criteria for that changes arbitrarily based on the zeitgeist of a particular era. For example, pornography was considered by many to be "very scummy" at the turn of the century. Many religious groups tried to stop its publishing and sale, yet here we are today.

Thiel is well within his rights to file a civil suit, but it could lead to a dangerous precedent that restricts the First Amendment as the founding fathers envisioned it.

A better counterargument would be to bring up Citizens United, and how it has abused the safeguards of the First Amendment to do scummy things that are several orders of magnitude more than publishing some celebrity's sex tape.

The First Amendment says the cops won't bust down your door for saying something. It has exactly zero bearing on whether or not that same speech results in you being unemployed or unemployable, having your romantic partner leave you, or being shunned by greater society.

As for Citizens United, you do realize that before the decision affirmed it that corporations were understood to have 1A rights? What has people upset is that the "wrong" kind of corporations have those rights. It was okay when it was friendly media companies, unions, or non-profits with the correct ideology. But let some chunk of people with extreme Clinton Derangement Syndrome band together and "whoah Nellie!"?

Ok. Then let's target CU. But this isn't CU. The first amendment doesn't cover lying or making people's lives miserable when it doesn't serve a social good. The founding fathers wrote the alien and sedition acts.

The illegality of revealing government search requests causing chilling effects and propoganda pieces by the US military and other high ranking officials is actually a violation. Taking someone to open court isn't.

I'm not arguing against a free press, and I agree that it would be terrible if this was happening to real journalists. But ... in this case, Gawker caused damage to a person, but could be sued for libel because it was true. If you're going to fight dirty, you should be prepared for your opponent to fight back dirty.

You also have to question whether the main-stream media (which is tentatively hanging on to a business model), isn't already controlled by rich individuals. This article's main thrust was that we don't want a world where the media is constrained by the rich using the legal system, but the rich already constrain the media economically.

These are the same not-real journalists who broke the Facebook stories everyone was talking about for the past two weeks, though. Seems like an odd claim.

Define real journalist.

I think it'd be fair to point out there seems to be a huge shift in attitudes toward this stuff. Compare the reaction to the Pamela Anderson videos to the reaction to the iCloud leaks.

No it's not.

They paint Thiel as a supervillain for helping prosecute a company who did the wrong thing and cost someone their job.

The precedent that media companies can share and promote negative private data that doesn't contribute to the public good is a worse precedent than that a person can fund a lawsuit against a company to air those grievances in court.

I disagree with the notion that tech is "the most powerful industry" or more powerful than the press. The press is the most powerful industry, by far.

With a single front-page story they can make a $9 billion company worthless (e.g. Theranos — not saying this is a bad thing!). They can get popular products banned (e.g. Four Loko). They can set off moral panics (e.g. Satanism) that end up with people being imprisoned under false pretenses for decades. No other industry besides government has such power.

Peter Thiel is a theft. His paypal stolen hundreds of dollars from me.

The "freedom of press" argument is total bull. This is 2016. Free press has already won, 1000 kids could write the same things in 1000 social networks and blogs. The information is there. But gawker makes money off this. Thats what makes them immorral and they should pay the damages for hurting people. It's not like their copywriters cannot post the same shit on their twitters.

I'd have a hard time constructing or more ignorant or ass-backwards argument than what you did there.

You do not have freedom of speech on Twitter. You are only allowed to say there whatever Twitter allows you to say.

The only place on the internet you might have freedom of speech is on your own site that you control. And even then you need to run the server, data center and you need to be sure of your uplink provider.

thanks. Agree about twitter, it was a figure of speech. You only need enough bandwidth to be found by google or the twittercrowd or the 4chan (yes i know, all of them have their biases, yet there has never been a single cover up in the internet age). Having an uplink to pay does not justify being an asshole.

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