Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley investor and Facebook board member, is reportedly wielding outsized influence over the social-media giant’s policy about political ads, creating a rift with other company directors over Facebook’s role in politics, and specifically the 2020 presidential election.
That’s according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, which on Tuesday said that Thiel pressed Facebook Chief Mark Zuckerberg to maintain a policy of not fact-checking political ads that appear on the social-media site. Facebook announced the policy in September, and Zuckerberg stood by it when, during an October speech at Georgetown University, he said he was in favor of more free speech, and not less on Facebook.
Thiel, and some other Facebook board members and executives, have reportedly maintained the position that the company should stay away from determining whether information in political ads is true or not, arguing that it is up to Facebook’s users to reach their own conclusions on such matters.
But, according to the Journal, that stance has led to disagreements between Thiel and other board members. Citing “people familiar with the relationships”, the Journal said that Facebook board members such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles have clashed with Thiel over the company’s political ad policies, and Facebook’s role in the 2020 presidential election. Facebook said in April that both Hastings and Bowles won’t stand for re-election when their current board terms expire at the end of this year.
In a statement to this news organization, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company sometimes faces “difficult trade offs” when it comes to decisions on its various policies.
“We’re approaching them with careful rigor at all levels of the company, from the Board of Directors down,” the spokesperson said. “We’re fortunate to have a board with diverse experiences and perspectives so we can ensure debate that reflects a cross section of views.”
Thiel, who has been on Facebook’s board since 2005, has always been a bit of an outlier in the Bay Area’s tech circles due to his more-conservative political leanings. In 2016, the billionaire venture capitalist gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in support of then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump, and Thiel has been involved in White House advisory groups and discussions on several occasions since Trump became president.
Palantir, the Palo Alto-based data-analytics software company where Thiel is chairman, didn’t return a request seeking a comment from Thiel.