Here's a very good question swirling around Silicon Valley and the media universe today after investor Peter Thiel proudly took financial credit for a series of aggressive legal assaults on Gawker Media:
What does Facebook, which has been trying mightily to court the media industry to publish on the social networking site, think about Thiel's actions, especially given he is a prominent director of the company?
And, more importantly, will it do anything about them?
The answer is, not surprisingly, a solid "No comment" from the company and a number of other board members. In fact, insiders are going out of their way to say that Facebook is not responsible for Thiel's private actions and noting that it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.
Still. Still. Still!
Because if you are putting yourself out there as a friend of media in order to get them to use your platform, having a director go undercover rogue in some cloak-and-dagger revenge plot to decimate a publisher is probably going to be an issue that needs some discussion. (If this feels like the plot of "Empire" to you, you are correct!)
Sources inside the company said that discussion would happen, perhaps because social media lit up yesterday after Thiel told the New York Times that he had secretly launched an effort, costing around $10 million, to find and help those interested in suing Gawker. That included wrestler Hulk Hogan, who won a huge judgement against the controversial media site.
This one from Nate Silver was typical:
If Peter Thiel stays on Facebook's board, that will tell us a lot about Facebook's values (or lack thereof). https://t.co/CtRACODz2u— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) May 26, 2016
Or this from Anil Dash:
If you work at Facebook, it's past time to speak up. Your board member Thiel is jeopardizing your ability to create things that help people.— Anil Dash (@anildash) May 26, 2016
And, as Jack Shafer of Politico noted:
"The most unsettling aspect to Thiel's legal 'activism' is his status as a member of the Facebook board of directors, a position that he's held since April 2005. Both Gawker and Facebook are media entities, competing with one another for online ad revenue. How do we feel about a Facebook board member paying out of his pocket to destroy a major digital publisher, especially in an era where Facebook is gaining primacy as the ultimate platform for news? The laws of capitalism allow—and encourage!—the destruction of one company by another. But the proper jousting grounds for this sort of battle is the marketplace, not the courts."
The controversy, like clockwork, has also dredged up other dicey statements by Thiel, such as his thoughts on women voting, putting a lot of light on the already colorful board member that Facebook surely wants to avoid.
That aside, Thiel is without a doubt one of the heroes of the Facebook origin story, having funded the social networking behemoth in its early days. He's been a staunch backer of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's vision ever since.
That investment (starting with $500,000 in 2004) and support put him at the center of power at Facebook, as one of its first directors.
In 2007, in fact, the board was made up of just Thiel, Zuckerberg and VC Jim Breyer, who has since stepped down. It's now a lot bigger, including COO Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Gates Foundation head Susan Desmond-Hellmann and super VC Marc Andreessen. (All of whom no-commented Recode 26 seconds after asking.)
But Andreessen might be a good proxy for what Facebook will do here. After he recently tweeted some cloddish comments about colonialism in India, where Facebook is facing intense competition, Zuckerberg slapped his hand publicly in a statement.
"I want to respond to Marc Andreessen's comments about India yesterday," wrote Zuckerberg. "I found the comments deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all."
He was upset, perhaps, but Andreessen still stayed on as a director and perhaps that was the right way to handle it.
So, even though this is a step much, much further by Thiel, I expect the same here: A lot of he-does-not-speak-for-us smoke and no he-kinda-does fire. And because Gawker is so disliked by power players in tech, there will be no backlash, either.
It's called the Silicon Valley two-step, people, but I will give Dash the last word on that:
And the number of (wealthy! powerful!) Silicon Valley voices who are unwilling to speak up publicly against Thiel is absolutely stunning.— Anil Dash (@anildash) May 26, 2016
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.