Back in the fall of 2014, I mentioned Peter Thiel’s provocative book on the relationship of capitalism and technology From Zero To One. Now, the billionaire Mr. Thiel has been in the news lately as an Avenger of sorts against one of those technology companies, as he has been revealed as the man who bankrolled Terry Bollea’s successful lawsuit against Gawker for invading Mr. Bollea’s privacy in an egregious way and releasing a Bollea sex tape to the public.
The press is all over this one, and some outlets, evidently, are pissing in their pants. Travis Andrews of The New York Times quotes Timothy B. Lee of Vox:
“Even if you think Gawker stepped over the line in publishing the Hogan sex tape — and personally I do — there’s still a lot of reason to worry about the prospect of wealthy people using lawsuits as a weapon against people they don’t like.” Variety’s Maureen Ryan echoed this sentiment, writing, “Let’s get one thing clear: I have no particular love for Gawker … But the punishment Thiel clearly has in mind — the scorched-earth destruction of the entire company — in no way fits the crime he thinks it has committed.”
I disagree with Lee’s and Ryan’s opinions. The wealthy have always used their wealth and their lawyers against people and circumstances they don’t like, and they have always funded lawsuits filed by other people: such is common practice in the litigation fields of medicine and civil rights. And there is nothing–nothing–wrong with a private citizen, even a truly wealthy one, stepping forward to maintain a lawsuit that another person might not be able to continue on his own. Gawker did what it did in releasing the tape because it figured no one, neither the police nor the press nor Bollea, could hold them accountable for their crime. It figured wrong.
Responsible news outlets have nothing to fear from anyone–even the wealthy–as long as they stick to reporting the news instead of making it. If organizations like Gawker, TMZ, or E News step over the line and violate someone’s privacy, I’m glad that there are people out there like Thiel who will cure them of their generations-long habit of believing that everyone’s lives belong to everyone else.