Peter Thiel, one of Facebook’s longest-serving and most controversial board members, plans to step down from the company’s board later this year, the company said Monday.
Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, has served on the board of the company, now known as Meta, since 2005, one year after the social network launched. He will serve as a board director until Meta’s annual shareholders meeting, at which point he will not stand for re-election. The company has not yet announced a date for the meeting, which usually occurs in May.
Thiel, 54, long a polarizing figure in Silicon Valley, co-founded PayPal and data-analytics firm Palantir Technologies, and is a partner at venture capital firm Founders Fund. In addition to Facebook, he was an early backer of a number of other prominent tech firms, including LinkedIn and Yelp.
Thiel is known for his contrarian views, including investing money to develop floating cities and encouraging young people to skip college. He also authored the New York Times bestseller “Zero to One,” in which he argues that monopolies should be the goal for entrepreneurs.
He is also known for funding certain controversial endeavors. He was an early investor in Clearview AI, a startup that has compiled billions of photos for facial recognition technology, and he funded a lawsuit by Terry Bollea, popularly known as Hulk Hogan, in 2016 that resulted in Gawker Media going bankrupt. Thiel, who is gay, was outed by Gawker’s tech blog, Valleywag, in 2007.
As an early backer of Facebook, Thiel has come to be known as a close adviser and mentor to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Peter has been a valuable member of our board and I’m deeply grateful for everything he has done for our company — from believing in us when few others would, to teaching me so many lessons about business, economics, and the world,” Zuckerberg said in a statement Monday.
Zuckerberg, who described the investor as “an original thinker,” suggested that Thiel is leaving his position on the board to “devote his time to other interests.”
Those other interests may include politics, as the United States approaches midterm elections later this year. Thiel, a billionaire, plans to back candidates who support former U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda, the New York Times reported Monday, citing an unnamed person with knowledge of Thiel’s thinking. A spokesperson for Thiel did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN.
In 2016, Thiel created an uproar in Silicon Valley over his US$1.25 million donation to Trump’s campaign. Zuckerberg at the time defended Thiel — and his place on the company’s board — saying on an internal post, “we can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.”
Critics of the company expressed concerns about Thiel’s influence on Zuckerberg in recent years as the company weighed how to handle political advertising and considered banning Trump’s account in the wake of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack. Facebook ultimately suspended Trump until at least 2023.
With Thiel’s exit, Meta will lose the most outspoken conservative voice on its board, at a time when the company faces accusations that it censors conservative voices (although there’s no credible, non-partisan reporting to support such claims). It also comes amid a broader moment of crisis for Meta, which is scrambling to counter stagnating user growth, tough competition, regulatory scrutiny and the fallout from a series of scandals.
In the past two years, Meta has added two Silicon Valley start-up founders — DropBox’s Drew Houston and, more recently, DoorDash’s Tony Xu — to its board, as it seeks to invest in e-commerce and virtual and augmented reality technologies.