Facebook is sticking with Peter Thiel despite the backlash against him for funding the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that financially crippled Gawker. At today’s Facebook shareholders meeting, the company voted to re-elect Thiel as one of its board of directors. He received enough votes to stay on.
Facebook’s entire board was re-elected, including Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Reed Hastings, Erskine Bowles, Susan Desmond-Hellmann M.D., Marc Andreessen, and Jan Koum. Facebook also voted to create a new non-voting set of Class C stock which will allow Zuckerberg to retain an iron grip on the direction of the company.
In the Q&A following the votes, Zuckerberg said he plans to continue running Facebook for decades to come despite his philanthropic endeavors. No one asked about Thiel, indicating the press itself may care more about his assassination of Gawker than shareholders do.
Thiel last week gave a speech praising Facebook‘s impact on the humanization of technology, which surely didn’t hurt his outcome in the vote. Earlier this month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company wouldn’t remove Thiel.
The decision to keep Thiel could cause tension for Facebook with its media publisher partners.
The idea that one of Facebook’s directors spent millions of his own money to bankrupt a news outlet could worry them about Facebook’s commitment to uncensored press. Gawker is now bankrupt and up for sale. Facebook also ruffled feathers when it was accused of suppressing conservative trends in its Trending Topics, though the company’s investigation found no evidence of concerted censorship.
Facebook has been amassing enormous influence over the distribution of news these past few years. The Facebook News Feed is one of the largest drivers of referral traffic to publishers, putting them at the mercy of its feed ranking algorithm. And last year Facebook launched Instant Articles, allowing it to host news posts inside its native apps so users don’t have to wait for an external mobile site to load.
While Twitter continues to be hugely popular amongst journalists, and Snapchat has just launched its own version of Instant Articles that let users swipe up from an ad to view a hosted post, Facebook doesn’t have any worthy competitors amongst social news distribution. That gives it the leverage to stick by Thiel without much worry that partners will flee elsewhere.