Peter Thiel, one of the longest-serving board members of Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is considering stepping down, the company announced on Monday.
Mr. Thiel, 54, wants to focus on influencing November’s midterm elections, said a person with knowledge of Mr. Thiel’s thinking who declined to be identified. Mr. Thiel views the midterm elections as crucial to changing the direction of the country, this person said, and he supports candidates who support the agenda of former President Donald J. Trump.
Over the past year, Mr. Thiel, who has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion by Forbes, has become one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. He donated $10 million last year to the campaigns of two proteges, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance.
Mr. Thiel has served on Meta’s board since 2005, when Facebook was a tiny start-up and one of its first institutional investors. But scrutiny of Mr. Thiel’s position on the board has steadily increased as the company has been embroiled in political controversies, including excluding Mr. Trump from the platform, and that the venture capitalist has become more politically active.
The departure means Meta loses the most prominent conservative voice on its board. The 10-member board has undergone significant change in recent years as many of its members have left and been replaced, often by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Dropbox CEO Drew Houston joined Facebook’s board in 2020, and DoorDash founder Tony Xu joined last month. Meta did not say whether he intended to replace Mr. Thiel.
The company, which recently celebrated its 18th anniversary, is making a transition to the so-called metaverse, which its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, sees as the next generation of the internet. Last week, Meta said it had spent more than $10 billion on the effort in 2021, along with mixed financial results. This erased more than $230 billion from the company’s market value.
“Peter has been a valued member of our board and I am deeply grateful to him for all he has done for our company,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “Peter is truly an out-of-the-box thinker to whom you can bring your toughest problems and get unique suggestions.”
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In a statement on Monday, Mr. Thiel said: “It has been a privilege to work with one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. Mark Zuckerberg’s intelligence, energy and conscience are formidable. His talents will serve Meta well as he leads the company into a new era.
Mr Thiel first met Mr Zuckerberg 18 years ago when he provided the entrepreneur with $500,000 capital for Facebook, valuing the business at $4.9 million. That gave Mr. Thiel, who with his venture capital firm Founders Fund controlled a 10% stake in the social network, a seat on its board.
Since then, Mr. Thiel has become a confidant of Mr. Zuckerberg. He advised the company through its early years of rapid user growth and through its struggles to shift its business to mobile phones when it went public in 2012.
He was also seen as the contrarian who has Mr Zuckerberg’s ear, advocating unfettered speech on digital platforms when it suited him. His conservative views also gave Facebook’s board what Mr. Zuckerberg saw as ideological diversity.
In 2019 and 2020, as Facebook grappled with how to handle political speech and claims made in political advertising, Mr. Thiel urged Mr. Zuckerberg to resist public pressure to remove such ads, even as others executives and board members thought the company should change its position. Mr. Zuckerberg sided with Mr. Thiel.
But Mr. Thiel’s views on the floor were sometimes contradictory. He funded a secret war against media website Gawker, ultimately leading to the site’s bankruptcy.
Mr. Thiel’s political influence and his ties to leading Republicans and conservatives have also provided a crucial gateway into Washington for Mr. Zuckerberg, particularly under the Trump administration. In October 2019, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Thiel had a private dinner with President Trump.
Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg have long been critical of Mr. Thiel’s presence on the board. In 2016, Mr. Thiel was one of the few tech titans in largely liberal Silicon Valley to publicly support Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.
In 2020, when Mr. Trump’s inflammatory Facebook posts came under the microscope, critics cited Mr. Thiel’s board seat as the reason for Mr. Zuckerberg’s continued insistence that Mr. Trump’s publications remain standing.
Facebook banned Mr Trump’s account last year after storming the US Capitol on January 6, saying his posts incited violence. The episode has become a key rallying point for conservatives who say mainstream social platforms censored them.
Mr. Vance, who worked at one of Mr. Thiel’s venture capital funds, and Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Mr. Thiel’s family office, railed against Facebook. In October, the two Senate candidates argued in a New York Post opinion piece that Mr. Zuckerberg’s $400 million in donations to local election offices in 2020 amounted to “election interference” that is expected to do the trick. subject of an investigation.
Recently, Mr. Thiel publicly disagreed with content moderation decisions on Facebook and other major social media platforms. In October, at an event in Miami hosted by a conservative tech association, he said he would “take on the QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories about a Ministry of Truth any day.”
Mr. Thiel’s investment also came up against his membership on Meta’s board. He invested in the company that became Clearview AI, a facial recognition startup that scraped billions of photos from Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms in violation of their terms of service. Founders Fund also invested in Boldend, a cyberweapons company that claimed to have found a way to hack WhatsApp, the messaging platform owned by Meta.
Meta declined to comment on Mr. Thiel’s investments.
Over the past year, Mr. Thiel, who is also chairman of software company Palantir, has increased his political donations to Republican candidates. Ahead of the midterms, he backs three Senate candidates and 12 House candidates. Among those House candidates are three who are issuing primary challenges to Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump over the events of Jan. 6.