PayPal co-founder admits backing Hulk Hogan's case against Gawker

Hogan, the former pro wrestler, won more than $115 million in a Florida jury trial in March. Turns out he had some significant backing from a Silicon Valley billionaire.

Daniel Van Boom Jon Skillings
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Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is director of copy editing at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing tech publications back when the web was just getting under way. He writes occasionally, on topics from GPS to James Bond.
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Peter Thiel
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Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel back in 2014.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

In a fight, it's not just about how slick your moves are or how quickly you get up from the canvas. It's also about who you've got in your corner.

Gawker founder Nick Denton had suspected that Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, was backing the defamation case that Terry Bollea -- better known as Hulk Hogan -- brought against the online publication.

It turns out he was right. On Wednesday, Thiel revealed to The New York Times that he had aligned himself with the pro wrestling icon.

"I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest," he told the publication. "I thought it was worth fighting back."

Thiel reportedly paid roughly $10 million to back Hogan, who won more than $115 million in a Florida jury trial in March. Hogan claimed that Gawker violated his privacy in 2012 when it published a sex tape involving him and the now-estranged wife of a friend.

The heavyweight fight seems to have left a mark on Gawker. Faced with significant legal expenses of its own, the media company said Thursday that it has hired an investment banker to review its options. That kind of maneuver often signals a potential sale, but Gawker played down the possibility.

"Everyone take a breath," Gawker said in a statement. "We've had bankers engaged for quite some time given the need for contingency planning around Facebook board member Peter Thiel's revenge campaign."

In 2007, Gawker had outed Thiel, who is homosexual, before he was open about his sexuality, with an article titled "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."

The billionaire entrepreneur "never forgives," said one Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who didn't want to be identified.

Thiel carries a great deal of heft in Silicon Valley. Besides being in at the start of PayPal and Facebook and his continued connection to the social network, he is active as an investor, leading a number of venture capital firms.

Update 10:45 a.m. PT: Added background and new information on Gawker's hiring of an investment banker.