Many in the West, prominent media organisations included, have criticised billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel for funding wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, an online ‘news-blog’ that had posted a sex-tape featuring Hogan. Many have called it a vendetta campaign—Gawker had also outed Thiel as gay in 2007, and at the time, he had said that the report and a series of other articles about his friends had “ruined people’s lives for no reason”. Thiel, on the other hand, maintains that his support to Hogan was about “specific deterrence” of “a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest” that Gawker has pioneered.
The fact is digital content generators and aggregators have proliferated with the spread of the internet, and some have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. And there is no saying with certainty that the public isn’t interested in something that is strictly not ‘in public interest’—Gawker, which proudly claims “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”, drew 23 million visits a month in 2015. Thus, even though there may be many who don’t find what a Gawker puts out palatable, such content reaches millions. With these generators/aggregators acquiring the character of mass media organisations—with very few of the standards mandated for traditional media applying to them—there is going to be a pushback when individuals are negatively impacted by the content they deliver. It is here that a Peter Thiel becomes important, even necessary. Every campaign benefits from heavyweight endorsers, and so when Thiel sponsors Hogan in his fight with Gawker for a breach of his privacy, this drives home the point for gossip blogs and online newsrags that they can’t get away with using sensitive details about individuals to attract readers.