Peter Thiel is not the most popular guy in Silicon Valley.
The venture capitalist and entrepreneur has had a particularly volatile year. First there was the bombshell that Thiel was secretly financing a lawsuit aimed at destroying the news site Gawker. (His $10 million investment paid off: Gawker lost in court, went bankrupt, and shut down after a 14-year run.)
Then, Thiel announced his support for Donald Trump—an unwelcome political position in center-left Silicon Valley—praising Trump for being “honest,” “a builder,” and a man not distracted by the country’s “fake culture wars.”
Most recently, amid the Trump campaign’s spectacular meltdown, came the news reports that Thiel would donate $1.25 million to Trump. (The New York Times attributed its report about the donation to “a person close to the investor.”) That, apparently, was enough to prompt Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, to send a memo to his staff this week.
It was time to address the “questions and concerns about Peter Thiel as a board member and Trump supporter,” Zuckerberg wrote in the memo, which was leaked to the website Hacker News.
Keeping Thiel on the board was a reflection of Facebook’s commitment to diversity, Zuckerberg explained. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate...” he wrote. “Our community will be stronger for all our differences—not only in areas like race and gender, but also in areas like political ideology and religion.”(A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed to me that the leaked memo, pictured below, is authentic.)
Setting aside the question of whether Zuckerberg’s explanation holds up to scrutiny—the make-up of Facebook’s board gives plenty of reason to doubt its actual commitment to diversity, for instance—there’s still the question of why Zuckerberg felt compelled to address Thiel’s support for Trump, but not Thiel’s antagonism toward a free press.