ONLINE PRIVACY AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Peter Thiel: The Online Privacy Debate Won’t End With Gawker
NOTE: Why any gay man or woman would be a member of the Republican Party is way beyond my capacity for rational thought and empathetic understanding. After all, the Republican Platform adopted at last month's National Convention, is basically a throwback to the times when gay men and women were universally demonized as the Spawn of Satan, child molesters, and condemned to Hell by God him or her self. But then, PayPal founder and multi-billionaire Peter Thiel and I don’t share a whole lot in common, I suppose, except for sexual orientation. But I’ve agreed with Thiel and his Hulk Hogan proxy battle against Gawker. Here’s what he had to say in this morning’s NYT:
The New York Times
By Peter Thiel
August 16, 2016
Last month, I spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland because I believe our country is on the wrong track, and we need to solve real problems instead of fighting fake culture wars. I’m glad that an arena full of Republicans stood up to applaud when I said I was proud to be gay, because gay pride shouldn’t be a partisan issue. All people deserve respect, and nobody’s sexuality should be made a public fixation.
Unfortunately, lurid interest in gay life isn’t a thing of the past. Last week, The Daily Beast published an article that effectively outed gay Olympic athletes, treating their sexuality as a curiosity for the sake of internet clicks. The article endangered the lives of gay men from less tolerant countries, and a public outcry led to its swift retraction. While the article never should have been published, the editors’ prompt response shows how journalistic norms can improve, if the public demands it.
As an internet entrepreneur myself, I feel partly responsible for a world in which private information can be instantly broadcast to the whole planet. I also know what it feels like to have one’s own privacy violated. In 2007, I was outed by the online gossip blog Gawker. It wasn’t so many years ago, but it was a different time: Gay men had to navigate a world that wasn’t always welcoming, and often faced difficult choices about how to live safely and with dignity. In my case, Gawker decided to make those choices for me. I had begun coming out to people I knew, and I planned to continue on my own terms. Instead, Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it.
It didn’t feel good, but I knew it could have been much worse. What I experienced would be minor in comparison with the cruelties that could be inflicted by someone willing to exploit the internet without moral limits.
As the competition for attention was rewarding ever more exploitation, Gawker was leading the way. The site routinely published thinly sourced, nasty articles that attacked and mocked people. Most of the victims didn’t fight back; Gawker could unleash both negative stories and well-funded lawyers. Since cruelty and recklessness were intrinsic parts of Gawker’s business model, it seemed only a matter of time before they would try to pretend that journalism justified the very worst.
Sure enough, in October 2012 Gawker did something beyond the pale: They published a sex tape without the consent of the people in the video. Unfortunately for Gawker, they had targeted someone who was determined to fight back. Terry Bollea is better known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, a fact that Gawker claimed justified public access to his private life. Mr. Bollea disagreed. At first he simply requested that Gawker take down the video. But Gawker refused. It was getting millions of page views, and that was making money.
Four years later, the financial calculus has changed. Gawker Media Group has put itself up for sale (bids are due Monday afternoon) in part to satisfy the legal judgment of a unanimous jury that ruled against Gawker and assessed damages of $140 million, proving that there are consequences for violating privacy. Mr. Bollea could not have secured justice without a fight, and he displayed great perseverance. For my part, I am proud to have contributed financial support to his case. I will support him until his final victory — Gawker said it intends to appeal — and I would gladly support someone else in the same position.
A year before the Bollea decision, Gawker retracted an article that outed the chief financial officer of Condé Nast. Gawker made the right decision by backing down, but I doubt the company would have done so without the pressure of Mr. Bollea’s continuing defense of his own rights. Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder and chief executive, used the occasion to defend the site’s coverage of Mr. Bollea, but he also wrote that it’s not enough for a story “simply to be true.” He was right about that: A story that violates privacy and serves no public interest should never be published.
The defense of privacy in the digital age is an ongoing cause. As for Gawker, whatever good work it did will continue in the future, and suggesting otherwise would be an insult to its writers and to readers. It is ridiculous to claim that journalism requires indiscriminate access to private people’s sex lives.
A free press is vital for public debate. Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist’s profession. It’s not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it. The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession’s reputation.
The United States House of Representatives is considering the Intimate Privacy Protection Act, a bipartisan bill that would make it illegal to distribute explicit private images, sometimes called revenge porn, without the consent of the people involved. Nicknamed the Gawker Bill, it would also provide criminal consequences for third parties who sought to profit from such material.
This is a step in the right direction. Protecting individual dignity online is a long-term project, and it will require many delicate judgments. We can begin on solid ground by acknowledging that it is wrong to expose people’s most intimate moments for no good reason. That is the kind of clear moral line that Gawker and publishers like it have sought to blur. But they can’t do it if we don’t let them.
PS: While I still cannot fathom why Thiel is a Republican, I happen to agree with his views on the press and privacy. Frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck if Kim Kardashian wants to have pics of her titties and ass cheeks spread all over the internet to be masturbated to by millions of straight guys. (All right. So maybe a slight exaggeration, but who knows?) She does this willingly and with her tacit if not explicit permission. After all, she, like Thiel, has the means to stop the press from publishing nude pics with a judicious lawsuit, a tactic you and I don’t possess.
I’ve never been a fan of Gawker or Entertainment Extra and all those other “entertainment expose” sites. To me they are just silly and stupid. I am aware of the enormous profits such sites can make for their owners and I have no problem with this. What I have a problem with is this idea that whatever the “press” publishes is Okay, is protected by the Constitution. This idea is just plain wrong. In this age where Wikileaks can expose us to credit card fraud with impunity, where five seconds after purchasing a composter on Amazon.com I find ads for composters on my Facebook page, the sanctity of our personal privacy, our personal secrets, if you will, represents the last bastion of our Constitutionally guaranteed right to protection from public exposure, our rights to the privacy of our personal lives.
Peter Thiel, Republican that his is, is right.
Have a Great Day!