Peter Thiel, Gawker, and Freedom of Speech

Jason Willick, writing for The American Interest in defense of Peter Thiel:

It’s also not clear what policy response Gawker’s outraged defenders would recommend. Put caps on the amount of money people can contribute to legal efforts they sympathize with? That would put the ACLU and any number of advocacy groups out of business. It would also represent a far greater threat to free expression than a court-imposed legal liability for the non-consensual publication of what is essentially revenge porn. If Marshall and others are worried about the superrich harassing critics with genuinely frivolous lawsuits — as, yes, authoritarian characters like Donald Trump have attempted to do — they would have more success backing tort reform measures to limit litigiousness overall than attacking Thiel for contributing to a legitimate cause he has good reason to support.

Willick’s argument is that Thiel’s bankrolling of Hogan’s case against Gawker is within the bounds of free speech. I don’t disagree. My counter to Willick, though, is that it’s possible to be outraged and/or alarmed by Thiel’s behavior without proposing any sort of new legislative barrier to prevent this sort of thing.

Willick:

Fortunately, this debate does not needs to be resolved, because our First Amendment protects the speech rights of everyone, regardless of where they reside on the left-wing privilege totem poll. And that means Peter Thiel’s right to back Hogan’s cause is not and should not be in dispute, no matter how much Gawker-sympathizers hand-wave about how the wealthy contrarian is ushering in a totalitarian oligarchy.

It’s free speech on both sides. Thiel was free to secretly back (and apparently strategically steer) Hogan’s case against Gawker. But Gawker founder Nick Denton was free to air his suspicion that Hogan had a billionaire Silicon Valley backer, and Forbes was free to out Thiel as said backer. And now commentators who are appalled are free to express their outrage at Thiel, perhaps embarrassing him and making it less likely that he or others of similar super-wealth will do this in the future. Willick’s defense of Thiel strikes me as being of a piece with the view that the super rich are an aggrieved, rather than privileged, class.

I, for one, don’t dispute Peter Thiel’s right to back Hogan’s case. I simply think he’s an asshole for doing it, and a coward for having attempted to do it in secret.

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