Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg confirmed today that venture capitalist Peter Thiel would not be removed from Facebook’s board after coming under fire for financing a lawsuit that would destroy Gawker.
Over and over onstage at Code — an annual tech conference, held at a cliffside resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, that serves as a nexus of power for Silicon Valley insiders — Sandberg stressed that Thiel’s actions were taken as an independent board member, and therefore Facebook was not obligated to comment. She drew a distinction between Thiel and Marc Andreessen, another Facebook board member whose recent actions also invoked public outrage and calls for accountability. In Andreessen’s case, the ire was over tweets arguing that colonialism had been good for India. In response, Mark Zuckerberg wrote an open letter condemning the comment, which affronted him personally.
“It almost looked like [Andreessen] was speaking for Facebook,” Sandberg said. “There’s been no implication that [Thiel] was doing this for Facebook, so we didn’t have to comment.”
Sandberg’s clarification on Thiel’s position as a board member came after questions from Joshua Topolsky, a veteran tech journalist and co-founder of the tech blog The Verge. Topolsky asked why Thiel “systematically trying to destroy” a media outlet “doesn’t strike you as a problem.”
Topolsky then went on to highlight the connection between Thiel’s actions and recent outrage over reports that Facebook’s human editors had interfered with the algorithm to decide trending topics. In response to that public feedback, Zuckerberg and Facebook held a meeting at its headquarters with conservative leaders like Glenn Beck. Onstage, Sandberg said that the conservatives who visited Facebook "said that they found Mark and all of us really open to the dialogue." Topolsky's follow-up question harkened back to that. Would Facebook be OK with Thiel doing this to other publications and other journalists? he asked.
“It’s hard to answer all these hypotheticals,” Sandberg responded.
"It’s a disturbing relationship at play where you’ve got a business that’s a frequent target of Gawker and a board member actively trying to destroy it," Topolsky told BuzzFeed News immediately after the Q&A. "Facebook is ostensibly a platform for free and open speech. Even if it's speech you don’t like it, you have to tolerate it."