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Sheryl Sandberg Denies Facebook Involvement in Peter Thiel vs. Gawker

June 1, 2016, 8:08 PM UTC
Sheryl Sandberg at 2016 Code Conference
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer with Recode's Kara Swisher at 2016 Code Conference
Andrew Nusca for Fortune

Facebook (FB) board member Peter Thiel’s war with Gawker Media has been a hot-button issue for both the Silicon Valley technology community and the New York media industry.

On Wednesday Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said the social network had no involvement in the spat.

Thiel earlier admitted to funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, which threatens to put the Gizmodo and Lifehacker publisher out of business. Thiel argued that Gawker “ruined people’s lives for no reason.” Valleywag, a Gawker-owned title focused on covering Silicon Valley, was among the first to publish articles about Thiel’s sexuality.

“Peter did what he did on his own, not as a Facebook board member,” Sandberg said. “We didn’t know about it.”

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Speaking at the annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Sandberg said Thiel’s actions put Facebook executives in a difficult position.

“Everyone in this audience wears different hats,” she explained. “We have very independent board members.” The independent streak causing so much grief in this situation can also make for a great board member, she added.

Thiel will remain on Facebook’s board.

Two members of the audience pressed Sandberg on Thiel. (One of them, San Francisco Chronicle editor Owen Thomas, was the author of a 2007 Valleywag post entitled, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”) She demurred.

“These are hard issues,” she said. “We’re not going to pretend that. What Gawker should get from us is the same distribution that anyone else gets. They’re a partner [for Facebook Live, its streaming video effort]. I understand there are complicated issues here, but this is something that was done independently.”