It’s the end of an era at Meta. Just last week, the company’s stock buckled after Facebook reported its first decline in daily active users in the company’s history. Now, the company formerly known as Facebook has parted ways with Peter Thiel, one of its longest-serving and most controversial board members.
In a statement released on Monday, Meta announced Thiel, who joined the company’s board of directors back in 2005, had decided not to stand for re-election. Thiel was one of Mark Zuckerberg’s most crucial mentors and the first outside investor in Facebook. As Max Chafkin notes in his recent biography, The Contrarian, Thiel was, “the first person in authority to grasp that Zuckerberg actually knew what he was doing.”
Thiel also secretly funded a lawsuit that bankrupted Gizmodo’s former parent company, Gawker Media.
“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. “Peter is truly an original thinker who you can bring your hardest problems and get unique suggestions. He has served on our board for almost two decades, and we’ve always known that at some point he would devote his time to other interests. I’m grateful he’s served on our board for as long as he has, and I wish him the best in his journey ahead.”
So what’s next for the tech libertarian leviathan? According to a source speaking with the New York Times, Thiel plans on spending much of his time and effort influencing the November midterm elections, with an eye towards supporting Donald Trump-aligned candidates. Thiel has quickly become one of the largest donors in the Republican party, the Times notes, last year spending $10 million to support Senate hopefuls Blake Masters and J.D. Vance.
Thiel’s political ambitions have at times clashed up against his role at Meta. Last year, for instance, Master and Blake co-wrote an editorial in the New York Post where they claimed Zuckerberg’s $420 million in local election donations amounted to meddling.
Thiel played an important role in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential win, donating over $1 million to his campaign and speaking at the Republican National Convention. Thiel also worked on Trump’s transition team where he used his influence to fill several positions.
“It has been a privilege to work with one of the great entrepreneurs of our time,” Thiel said in a statement. “Mark Zuckerberg’s intelligence, energy and conscientiousness are tremendous. His talents will serve Meta well as he leads the company into a new era.”
That era will likely see Meta invest further in augmented reality and virtual reality technologies in an attempt to carve out a spot as a leader in the metaverse. That era may also see Meta try to distance itself from years of controversy and scandal. That transition may come easier without Thief whispering into Zuckerberg’s ear. Thiel’s embrace of far-right candidates and alleged embrace of misinformation could further muddy Meta’s efforts at cleaning up its image. That point wasn’t lost on Thiel, according to a source in The Wall Street Journal, who said the billionaire had decided to step down, in part to avoid being a distraction for the company.
At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Meta suffered the largest single-day wipeout in stock market history last week. It’s entirely possible Thiel’s just decided the ride is over.