Unless you’ve been in a cave in the last week or so, you’ve probably read a review or discussion on The annoys, a new book on billionaire investor Peter Thiel by longtime Bloomberg Businessweek features editor and tech reporter Max Chafkin.
It’s not surprising. Thiel has become an important figure in America over the past 15 years, and Chafkin is a compelling storyteller who has devoted 15 years of reporting to the book and who has drawn on connections with “hundreds of sources,” he writes. in his thanks.
To find out more, we spoke with Chafkin last week in what turned out to be a heated discussion that covered how much Thiel (who spoke with Chafkin unofficially) revealed about his personal life; why the “Trump thing was part ideological, but part trade – an idea that Trump was undervalued,” says Chafkin; and why Thiel’s beliefs are “extremely inconsistent,” according to Chafkin’s report. We also discussed Thiel’s relationship with Mark Zuckerberg, who accepted one of Thiel’s first Facebook checks and has been linked, for better or for worse, to Thiel ever since.
You can hear this 30 minute interview here. In the meantime, we’re taking some of this Zuckerberg-centric conversation away as we find Zuckerberg’s relationship with Thiel to be particularly compelling and important, given Facebook’s impact on American society and humanity in general. We’ve edited this snippet slightly to make it longer.
TC: You talk about Thiel’s biggest and most important bet truly being Facebook and suggest in the book that he has used his position as a board member since 2005 to persuade Mark Zuckerberg to be more tolerant of a casual type position, even misinformation. You also suggest that there has been friction between Thiel and Zuckerberg for quite some time, especially since Thiel has come to embrace Trumpism. Do you think Thiel will be a member of the Facebook board for a long time to come? Do you think he was sidelined in any way?
MC: There’s an anecdote in the book: When Facebook went public its stock collapsed and Thiel sold the stock pretty quickly, but of course he stayed on the board. [and in the book] I’m talking about that meeting they had on the Facebook campus to inflate people, because when you work in a company and the stocks go down, I understand that it’s the most depressing thing in the world. Every day everyone loses money. The press is beating you up. They were chased by firefighters and teachers. It was just an endless parade of bad news. So they brought in all these loudspeakers to try to pick up the troops. And Peter Thiel gave a talk. And during the conference, he said: “My generation has been promised flying cars. Instead, we have Facebook. Normally he attacks Twitter [with that language]. He says, “We were promised flying cars, but we’ve got 140 characters,” but he did it on Facebook in this case, and if you’re sitting in a crowd, or you’re Mark Zuckerberg, that’s Like, “Oh, so the longest-serving board member, mentor, flagship of my business philosophy, kind of stood up and told me I suck.
I think Zuckerberg kind of respects that about Peter, doesn’t he? When you’re Mark Zuckerberg, it’s very difficult to get honest feedback. No one will ever tell you that you suck except maybe Peter Thiel. But as you say, Thiel has really come a long way on tiptoe over the past few years.
He has often spoken of technological monopoly and technological power, and he quotes Google, which. . . It might help Facebook, but it doesn’t help much as Facebook and Google are very similar companies and if you regulate one you might be able to regulate the other. I’m not sure Zuckerberg is happy about it.
Thiel has repeatedly embraced this kind of right-wing militant project in Silicon Valley. you have [conservative activist] James O’Keefe and others who intend to expose what they see as the hypocrisy of Facebook, Google, Apple – all the big tech companies – and Thiel has subtly embraced them.
But he also kisses them more and more in public. Currently, Thiel has two candidates running in the races for the US Senate. They’re both running in the Republican primaries: Blake Masters in Arizona and JD Vance in Ohio, and Thiel has donated ten million dollars to super PACs supporting each of those candidates. These guys are constantly attacking Facebook, not just Facebook on an intellectual level or raising questions. They launch almost personal attacks on Mark Zuckerberg. There is a JD Vance ad [funded by Thiel], where it’s these dark tones, and it’s like, ‘There’s an elite contingent in this country that’s out of touch,’ and that’s it – there’s the face of Mark Zuckerberg.
There was a case [in 2017] where Zuckerberg asked if Thiel thought he should quit, and Thiel didn’t and Zuckerberg didn’t fire him, so there was at least some tension. [As for whether] Thiel’s value has diminished, which is a really shrewd question because with Biden in charge, with the ruling Democrats controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress, Thiel’s connection to the right is less valuable. That said, there’s a very good chance the Republicans will take over the Senate in 2022. And there’s a chance some of those Senators will be very, very close to Peter Thiel, which could greatly increase his value.
TC: You mention in the book that a lot of people who are close to and admire Thiel are also terrified of him. Despite the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is probably the most powerful person in the world, I wonder if your perception is that he is afraid of Thiel.
MC: I think Zuckerberg could fire Thiel. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is a great guy. It is worth a lot of money. He could afford a war with Peter Thiel, and he could afford the backlash. But I think there is a question as to whether he would want to, because at the moment, the reason Thiel is able to get away with what he is capable of, as it relates to both being on the board and being that public critic, has to do with the fact that there would be a price to be paid if Mark Zuckerberg fired him, and the price would be that it would be a huge story. creepy.
Thiel had been such an important ally of Mark Zuckerberg during the Trump presidency. There have been those common memes in conservative circles that Facebook consistently discriminates against right-wing views, [that it’s] a liberal company made up of liberal employees who hate Donald Trump, and therefore put their thumbs on the scales and advance the interests of the left. . . [But] Zuckerberg had an impressive response to this, which is, “Hey, I have this board member. He’s not just a Republican. He’s not just some kind of average conservative like George Bush or anything like that. This is Peter Freaking Thiel. He’s the guy who’s too crazy for Steve Bannon. He’s a die-hard Trumpist. And that gives Facebook a really, really powerful argument.
When someone like Josh Hawley, who took money from Peter Thiel, or Ted Cruz, another person who took money from Peter Thiel, comes in and attacks Facebook. . . I think so [Thiel] on the left, especially if he was fired – if that was a story coming out – it would be open season.
I don’t think that’s an existential problem for Mark Zuckerberg. But I think it might be more comfortable to keep his friend and board member Peter Thiel, despite the fact that they may have deep differences of opinion on the value of Facebook.