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Why Facebook was never going to kick Thiel off its board

Thiel is a prominent conservative, a group that Facebook cannot afford to alienate right now

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
June 20, 2016
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/4624

At Facebook's shareholders meeting Monday, noted investor Peter Thiel was reelected to the board, along with the other board members, including Marc Andreessen, Reed Hastings and Jan Koum.

The reelection may come as a surprise to some, who speculated that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would vote to release Thiel of his board member duties and position, a move seemingly triggered by Thiel's contentious squabble with Gawker. 

The simple fact is that Thiel's position at Facebook was never actually in jeopardy. Thiel has been on the company's board of directors since he was the first investor in the company literally six months after it was founded. So he has basically been an advisor to Zuckerberg from the very beginning of this journey.

There's also the fact that, when questioned about Thiel's fight against Gawker earlier this month, COO Sheryl Sandberg said it was “not a Facebook thing."

“We have very independent board members with very independent thoughts that they share publicly,” she said. Translation: he isn't going anywhere. 

Those two things alone should have been enough to assure anyone that Thiel was going to stay. But there's an even better reason for Facebook to keep him: his politics.

Thiel is one of the best known conservative figures in tech. Describing himself as a Libertarian, he supported Ron Paul's bid for the Presidency in 2008, also backing the eventual Republican nominee that year, John McCain. He has also given money to Ted Cruz, for his Senate bid in 2012, and this year he donated $2 million to a Super PAC supporting another Silicon Valley Republican, Carly Fiorina, who was also, very briefly, Cruz's running mate. 

Most recently, it was revealed that Thiel will be a delegate from California for Donald Trump. 

For Facebook, having a prominent conservative on the board helps bridge the gap to a group that is distrustful of the company in light of a recent scandal, in which it was accused by a former contractor of routinely preventing stories from conservative news outlets from appearing in its "Trending Topics" sidebar due to political bias. 

While Facebook categorically denied that this had ever happened, conservative media ran with it. So Mark Zuckerberg, in full damage control mode, set up a meeting last month with Facebook executives and a number of conservative bigwigs, including Glenn Beck and former U.S. Senator Jim Demint, to discuss some of the issues that conversatives have had with the site. 

The meeting seems to have gone well, as many members of the conservative media who were there praised the company for its willingness to meet with them, and for listening to their concerns. 

"I will tell you this, from the mood of the meeting, they definitely don't think this is a joke," said former White House press secretary Dana Perino, who currently works at Fox News.

"I found them to be genuine and sincere and that they acknowledge that they have a trust problem with a significant portion of their customer base, and that they were trying to figure out a way, at least a first step, to open a dialogue so that they can try to fix it in the long run."

Despite the cordial meeting, there's still a sense of distrust between Facebook and conservatives following this incident. The last thing Facebook needed to do now was to anger them even more by booting the lone conservative off its board of directors.

Thiel is someone who could not only try to reassure those in the conservative community that Facebook is on their side, but also advise Facebook on how to best reach them. Kicking him off the board would have reignited a firestorm. Facebook did the wise thing by keeping him.

(Image source: fortune.com)


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