Facebook stays friends with Peter Thiel

Facebook shareholders vote to keep PayPal's co-founder on the board of directors, one month after he acknowledged funding lawsuits against Gawker Media in an effort to drive it out of business.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
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Peter Thiel

Investors at Facebook's shareholders meeting Monday voted in all of the directors up for re-election, including Peter Thiel (shown here in a 2014 photo).

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Facebook shareholders aren't un-friending Peter Thiel this year.

A month after the PayPal co-founder and early Facebook backer said he was bankrolling a series of lawsuits against Gawker Media, Facebook's shareholders decided he should stay on the board.

Thiel was re-elected alongside seven other board members, including Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist; Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix; and Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.

News of Thiel's campaign to undo Gawker came after the popular media group lost a $140 million lawsuit filed by the wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea. Bollea claimed Gawker violated his privacy when it published portions of a sex tape showing him and the now-estranged wife of a friend four years ago. Earlier this month, Gawker filed for bankruptcy and agreed to sell itself to digital publisher Ziff Davis for $90 million to $100 million.

Facebook had signaled earlier it didn't want to replace Thiel. "Peter did what he did on his own, not as a Facebook board member," Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said June 1 at Recode's Code Conference.

Thiel, Andreessen and Hastings didn't attend the shareholders meeting, though about 100 investors did.

Answering shareholders

Investors also had a chance to question Facebook's executives on a number of issues during a Q&A session following the board elections. These included concerns about bias following revelations that its trending news feed may be weighted against conservative news organizations. The company said again that its investigation didn't find any systemic bias.

And CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to a shareholder who asked if the company is planning to merge its Messenger and WhatsApp messaging services. About 2 billion people use the two services. "We're not planning on combining them," Zuckerberg said, adding they serve different purposes.

Facebook also said it's keeping a close eye on terrorism, taking down that type of content whenever it's reported. The company said it works with law enforcement if there's an imminent threat. The more people who use the platform, the more it combats extremism and terrorism, executives said.

Patti Hade, a 62-year-old physical therapist, flew to California from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to hear executives talk about competition. "Quite a bit" of her stock portfolio was tied up in Facebook shares, she said, which she bought at its IPO in 2012 and has continued buying since. She was especially curious to hear Facebook's strategy for competing against Snapchat, which the company tried to buy three years ago.

She came away disappointed by executives' comments, which she considered too brief. "I wanted more information," she said.

Not everyone seemed as disappointed though. When Zuckerberg was asked whether his philanthropic efforts were going to distract him from his day-to-day job at Facebook, he promised they wouldn't.

"I plan on being involved in running Facebook for a very long time," he said to shareholders' applause.

Update, 12:41 p.m. PT: Adds Facebook shareholder comment, details about the event.