Gawker’s Been Terrible. But What Peter Thiel’s Doing Is Worse


Photo: Heisenberg

Today’s Top Stories
 — There’s No Side To Root for in the Gawker-Thiel Battle. But one side is definitely more dangerous.
 — The Volkswagen Scandal Recedes: The emissions scandal isn’t going away, but the company is profitable.
 — The Bitcoin Roller Coaster Continues: No one know why.
 — Hey, Uber, How’s That Pivot to Better Behavior Going? A demand for diversity numbers goes unanswered.
 — We Are Where We Work: Three tech giants re-imagine how they present themselves the world — and themselves.

Gawker vs. Peter Thiel: Who Loses?
 What Gawker often does for a living can be despicable and cynical. Its network of pageview-chasing, high-end-content-farm blogs are a pungent example of junk food masquerading as online news. Yet, despite how hateful Gawker’s product can be, what Peter Thiel is doing to Gawker, secretly funding lawsuits against it in an attempt to put it out of business, is much worse for the press and society as a whole. Thiel was deeply wronged by Gawker (the company outed him), but his response, using his considerable power as a billionaire to stifle speech he doesn’t like, is the most un-open, un-NewCo response possible. And, as Michael Lazerow notes, Thiel’s secret war violates core Silicon Valley principles of trust and transparency. It’s a symptom of our post-Citizens United world — those with the most cash get to control the speech — and it’s a reminder that at least one of the people behind Facebook (Thiel’s on the board) might not be as committed to openness as the company claims to be.

The Volkswagen Scandal Recedes
 How long do companies have to pay for reprehensible behavior? Not long, it seems. Despite its multiyear attempt to deceive regulators about its emissions shortcomings, the company is still profitable and analysts are positive. Profits are down, but they’re still profits, and if you don’t count currency issues, first-quarter operating earnings were roughly at the same level as last year (WSJ). The company is emphasizing its shift to electric cars. According to Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, “The company is looking far more progressive and forward-looking than they did even seven or eight months ago” (Quartz). As analyst Ken Elias puts it, “People have short-term memories and, really, the function of the automobile business has always been about the product.”

The Bitcoin Roller Coaster Continues
 After a many-months-long drop, the price of bitcoin just surged to a 20-month high (Quartz). It’s now at its highest price in two years. Why? No one knows. Some say it’s related to China (more than 95% of bitcoin trading value is in yuan, after all), others say it might have something to do with the digital platform ethereum, which said it will trade bitcoin as well as another digital currency called ether. Meanwhile, the director of operations at bitcoin trading firm Whaleclub says, “No clear fundamentals or catalysts are powering this rise in price.” Should be no surprise that it’s hard to tell why such an opaque currency is moving in one direction or another.

Hey, Uber, How’s That Pivot to Better Behavior Going?
 Back in April, when drivers demanded that Uber make it easier for riders to tip them, Uber declined, arguing that its customers’ unconscious racial biases would lead them to tip white drivers better than black drivers. Since the company is so concerned about diversity, you’d think it would jump at the opportunity to disclose how the company’s diversity efforts are going (Boston Globe). Nope. How long will Uber be able to get away with this? According to one wag, “when Lyft and others in the market catch up, Uber will start being judged on other things besides just cost and convenience. That’s where values come into play. They need a greater purpose than just getting you from A to B.” We’d like to believe that, but what projections would make anyone think that Lyft and others in the market are catching up to Uber?

We Are Where We Work
 Our workspaces define who we are. That’s true of companies as well as individuals, and “Versailles in the Valley” (1843) showcases attempts by three of our bellwether companies — Apple, Facebook, and Google — to create environments that capture who they are and promote what they want to promote. Apple’s ring-in-progress captures its scaled elegance, Facebook is trying to capture the messiness of creativity, and Google has hired two architects “who have come up with an idea that feels as though it was concocted at an all-night party at Burning Man.” All three designs showcase the companies’ optimism and wealth, although Alexandra Suich wonders whether these all-encompassing structures will give people even less reason to leave their corporate campuses and interact with the broader community. We think the answer there is a empathetic “No.”

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