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Peter Thiel at Center of Facebook’s Internal Divisions on Politics – The Wall Street Journal

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Peter Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, and ultimately made more than $1 billion on his stake.


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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facebook Inc.


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’s senior leadership is increasingly divided over how to address criticism of the company’s effect on U.S. politics, with board member and billionaire investor

Peter Thiel

serving as an influential voice advising CEO

Mark Zuckerberg

not to bow to public pressure, according to people familiar with the matter.

One flashpoint of late: political advertisements. Mr. Thiel has argued that Facebook should stick to its controversial decision, announced in September, to continue accepting them and to not fact-check those from politicians, the people said. However, some directors and executives are pushing for changes to the policy, including possibly banning political ads altogether, they said.

Mr. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have said publicly that the company continues to consider potential changes related to political ads.

“Many of the decisions we’re making at Facebook come with difficult trade-offs and we’re approaching them with careful rigor at all levels of the company, from the board of directors down,” a Facebook spokesman said. “We’re fortunate to have a board with diverse experiences and perspectives so we can ensure debate that reflects a cross section of views.”

Mr. Thiel declined to comment.

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The reaction to Facebook’s decision on political ads, presented again in October by Mr. Zuckerberg as a commitment to free speech, largely broke along party lines. Most Republicans, including members of the Trump reelection campaign, praised the decision, while many Democrats argued the company should do more to potentially limit the spread of misinformation. In the 2016 election, political actors used tech platforms to spread misleading or false information to specific groups of people.

The tensions within Facebook’s leadership are emerging as the social-media giant grapples with mounting political challenges less than a year before the 2020 election. Facebook is the subject of several federal and state regulatory investigations, including by the Justice Department, over antitrust concerns and alleged privacy violations. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the company for what they see as transgressions related to how it polices the site.

Facebook officials, including Mr. Zuckerberg, have vowed to fix the litany of problems confronting the company, but there is “pretty vigorous disagreement” among the leadership over how to tackle its political issues, one person familiar with the discussions said.

Some of Mr. Thiel’s views are shared by others within Facebook, including on political ads, with many current and former executives advising Mr. Zuckerberg that the company shouldn’t be in the position of deciding what claims are accurate, people familiar with the matter said. Others, including many rank-and-file employees, argue that Facebook’s decision cuts against its yearslong fight to combat misinformation, they said.

Some close to the company say Mr. Thiel is extending his influence while the company’s board and senior ranks are in flux. Over the past two years, more than a dozen senior executives have left or announced plans to leave Facebook.

This year alone, three longtime board members left, including lead independent director

Sue Desmond-Hellmann.

In April, Facebook said Netflix Inc. CEO

Reed Hastings

and former White House chief of staff

Erskine Bowles

wouldn’t stand for re-election. Both men periodically had tensions with Mr. Thiel over politics, people familiar with the relationships said. Facebook hasn’t yet named a new lead independent director.

Mr. Thiel’s outspoken conservative and libertarian views have put him out of step with the largely liberal community of Silicon Valley. Mr. Zuckerberg has long valued Mr. Thiel’s advice. Some people close to both men described their current relationship as an alliance, based in part on their long history together.

Mr. Thiel, 52 years old, was the first outside investor in Facebook, and ultimately made more than $1 billion on his stake. Early on, Mr. Thiel advised Mr. Zuckerberg, now 35, to focus on growing the Facebook platform’s user base rather than on making money, contrarian advice at the time that laid the groundwork for Facebook’s riches today. Mr. Thiel and his funds have since sold off most of their Facebook shares.

In a speech at Georgetown University, Mark Zuckerberg discussed the ways Facebook has tightened controls on who can run political ads while still preserving his commitment to freedom of speech. VIDEO: FACEBOOK / PHOTO: NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

More recently, Mr. Thiel, a Republican who backed

Donald Trump

in his 2016 presidential campaign, has been helping Mr. Zuckerberg understand the dynamics within the Trump White House, people familiar with their relationship said. Ahead of the Facebook co-founder’s October trip to Washington, D.C., the two met and talked privately to discuss strategy, one of the people said. On that trip, Mr. Zuckerberg spoke about the political-ads issue at Georgetown University and testified on Capitol Hill. Messrs. Zuckerberg and Thiel also had a private dinner at the White House with Mr. Trump in October. NBC News previously reported the dinner.

Mr. Thiel has sat on Facebook’s board since April 2005 and is currently chair of Facebook’s compensation, nominating and governance committee, which oversees succession planning and director nominations.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer

Sheryl Sandberg

have said repeatedly that they value ideological diversity on the board, although that view isn’t shared by all of the company’s workforce.

“Mark is friends with Peter Thiel and a lot of Republicans,” said a former Facebook employee who worked in its political group. “It’s a reality people aren’t willing to accept.”

Last year, after it was revealed that the data of 87 million users improperly wound up with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook directors scrambled to address the political fallout from that revelation, partly because the British political consulting firm had worked for the Trump campaign. Some Facebook directors wanted to create an outside advisory group that would analyze a wide range of problems confronting Facebook and offer potential solutions to the board, people familiar with the matter said. The group would have been small and included at least one conservative, the people said.

Mr. Thiel was strongly against the idea, the people said. The board never convened the group.

Mr. Thiel’s status as the founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies Inc., a firm specializing in custom database creation and analysis, on at least one occasion raised internal worries at Facebook, a person familiar with the matter said.

Christopher Wylie,

the former Cambridge Analytica employee whose allegations of data misuse kicked off the controversy, told U.K. officials in a hearing last year that “senior Palantir employees” had worked with the wrongfully obtained Facebook data.

Palantir denied having done so, but Facebook staff were asked to look not just at Palantir’s potential role in the scandal but also Mr. Thiel’s, according to a person familiar with the review. Facebook feared that his status as a prominent Trump supporter and a board member at both companies would make any violation discovered especially damaging, the person said.

“Mark Z. and Sheryl have specifically asked for investigations team to look into Palantir,” according to contemporaneous notes taken by a person briefed on the review. Among Facebook’s options, the notes say, was to “potentially leverage relationship with Thiel to force Palantir to have conversation with FB regarding data abuse.”

Palantir said it doesn’t offer social-media data gathering to any client and only works with data obtained lawfully, adding that it had no knowledge of or involvement in Facebook’s review.

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com, Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com and Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Kais Saied: The political outsider accused of a coup – Al Jazeera English

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President accused of attack on Tunisian democracy after sacking the country’s prime minister and suspending parliament.

Tunisia’s president described his election victory in 2019 as ‘like a new revolution’ – and on Sunday night he brought huge crowds of supporters onto the streets by sacking the government and freezing parliament in a move his foes called a coup.

Kais Saied, a 63-year-old political independent and former constitutional lawyer with an awkward public manner and a preference for an ultra formal speaking style of classical Arabic, is now at the undisputed centre of Tunisian politics.

Nearly two years after his election and a separate vote that created a deeply divided parliament, he has sidelined both the prime minister and parliament speaker with a move seen by critics as an unconstitutional power grab.

However, as tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of major cities to celebrate, Saied appeared to be riding a wave of popular anger against a political elite that has for years failed to deliver the promised fruits of democracy.

While the parliament speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, has been tainted with the messy compromises of a decade of democratic politics since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, Saied entered the scene in 2019 as a comparative newcomer.

Presenting himself in his campaign as an ordinary man taking on a corrupt system, he fought the election without spending money and with a bare-bones team of advisers and volunteers – winning the backing of leftists, Islamists and youths alike.

His supporters said he spent so little on the election that it cost only the price of the coffee and cigarettes he consumed meeting Tunisians and presented him as a paragon of personal integrity.

People celebrated in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Once elected, he appeared for a while shackled by a constitution that gives the president direct power over only the military and foreign affairs while daily administration is left to a government that is more answerable to parliament.

Saied has made no secret of his desire for a new constitution that puts the president at centre stage – prompting critics to accuse him of wanting to emulate Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in stripping his foes of power.

Power struggle

As president, Saied quickly feuded with the two prime ministers who eventually emerged from the complex process of coalition building – first Elyes Fakhfakh and then Hichem Mechichi.

However, the biggest dispute has been with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and its veteran leader Ghannouchi, a former political prisoner and exile who returned to Tunisia in 2011.

Over the past year, Saied and Mechichi, backed by Ghannouchi, have squabbled over Cabinet reshuffles and control over the security forces, complicating efforts to handle the pandemic and address a looming fiscal crisis.

As protests erupted in January, however, it was the government and the old parties of parliament who faced the public’s wrath – a wave of anger that finally broke last week as COVID-19 cases spiked.

A failed effort to set up walk-in vaccination centres led Saied to announce last week that the army would take over the pandemic response – a move seen by his critics as the latest step in his power struggle with the government.

It set the stage for his announcement on Sunday following protests targeting Ennahda in cities around the country.

People came out on the streets to celebrate the government’s removal but mahy demonstrators also want social and economic reform [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

During the 2011 revolution, his students and friends said, he used to walk the narrow streets of Tunis’ old city and the grand colonial boulevards downtown late at night, discussing politics with his students.

Saied was one of the legal advisers who helped draft Tunisia’s 2014 democratic constitution, though he soon spoke out against elements of the document.

Now, some of the main political inheritors of Tunisia’s revolution are casting him as its executioner – saying his dismissal of government and freezing of parliament are an attack on democracy.

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Putnam: The character of our politics – SC Times

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When I first considered running for office, many of the people I care about offered their own version of “Why would you want to do something like that?” But my daughter Eliza, who was 13 at the time, said it best: “But Dad, then you’ll have to talk to people, and people suck.” 

She meant politicians. 

Eliza and my friends clearly thought politics was a place for questionable characters. Countering Eliza’s cynicism was a big part of why I ran for office that first time. After being involved in local politics for a couple years, it pains me, but low expectations for politicians are sometimes justified.      

We’ve all heard people lament how our politics have gotten too personal. In some ways I agree, but in others I think we haven’t gotten personal enough. 

I believe politics are about character — but not just expecting a politician not to indulge conflicts of interest or demanding that they keep their word, although clearly we should expect as much. It’s also more than personality. While many folks consider who they’d like to have a beer with before they vote, that’s not the only issue that matters. Character is bigger than professional ethics or likeability.

I believe character is about who we are and who we want to be. Character isn’t about a moment, an individual decision; it’s about the patterns of behavior that define us as individuals or as groups. 

You know my character from how I behave when you’ve been around me. We know our character when we recognize it in our neighbors. Some patterns of choices are better than others. Some are aspirational. Sometimes we make choices that reflect concern for the best of us, the best for us, the best from us.  Character is not about one day, but is reflected in the choices we make every day. 

Recently, questions about the character of our politics and the characters in our politics have taken on a new urgency. Rep. John Thompson was stopped for not having a license plate on the front of his car. According to reports, during the traffic stop, Thompson first made sure to mention that he was an elected official, and then he provided the officer a Wisconsin driver’s license that had been renewed the same month that he was elected to the Minnesota legislature. 

In the aftermath of this traffic stop, as reporters tried to ascertain his legal residence, they discovered repeated allegations that Thompson had committed domestic violence.    

I don’t know Thompson personally, and I haven’t really worked with him in the legislature. He’s in the House, I’m in the Senate. That doesn’t really matter, though. I still find his pattern of alleged behavior to be abhorrent. It’s not good enough for an elected official. He does not deserve to serve.     

This issue is not about a particular ideology or politics. It’s about an individual accused of repeated moments of unacceptable behavior, habits that come together to demonstrate character that simply isn’t good enough. We need to expect more from our politics.

This doesn’t mean that we should expect our politicians to be exactly like us, to have exactly the same values we have on every issue or never to make mistakes. But I do believe we need to hold them to a higher standard. Public service is about service. That’s the foundation, and it should be assumed that those who run for elected office have hearts of servants and habits of them too.

Next time you write to an elected official, don’t be surprised when they write you back. Demand it. If they answer you with talking points, tell them that’s not good enough and they need to think for themselves just like you do. If you have high expectations and they fail to meet them, well, then it’s your turn. Run for office.  

Of course voting is important too. I’m not a big fan of participation trophies, in sports or in politics. Voting for or against someone just because of their party identification is setting the bar way too low. Our character is constituted in the decisions we make. We need to have higher expectations when we make those decisions. It’s not good enough to say someone else doesn’t do this work well. We all need to do it better.

Politicians needn’t be role models. Parents are best at that job. But we do need people in office who can be trusted, who show up and put work into listening, who finish what they start, who recognize the dignity of all people not just because that’s what’s useful, but because that’s who we want to be.

— Sen. Aric Putnam, a Democrat, represents Minnesota Senate District 14. His column is published monthly. 

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Germans divided over restrictions for the unvaccinated – Associated Press

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BERLIN (AP) — German politicians were deeply divided Sunday over a warning by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary if COVID-19 infection numbers reach new heights in the coming months.

Chief of staff Helge Braun told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he doesn’t expect another coronavirus-related lockdown in Germany. But Braun said that unvaccinated people may be barred from entering venues like restaurants, movie theaters or sports stadiums “because the residual risk is too high.”

Braun said getting vaccinated is important to protect against severe disease and because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people.” He said such policies would be legal because “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens.”

His comments fueled a debate in German politics about potential vaccination requirements. The issue has proven divisive, even within Merkel’s own Christian Democrats party. Its candidate to replace Merkel as Germany’s leader, Armin Laschet, said he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for the time being.

“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told the German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”

If Germany’s vaccination rates remain too low this fall, other options could be considered, Laschet said, adding “but not now.”

With the highly transmissible delta variant spreading in Germany, politicians have debated the possibility of compulsory vaccinations for specific professions, including medical workers. No such requirements have been implemented yet.

Germany’s vaccine efforts have slowed in recent weeks and that has led to discussions about how to encourage those who haven’t yet received a vaccine to do so. More than 60% of the German population has received at least one dose while over 49% are fully vaccinated.

During a recent visit to the Robert Koch Institute, the government run disease control agency, Merkel ruled out new vaccine requirements “at the moment,” but added, “I’m not ruling out that this might be talked about differently in a few months either.”

Other elected officials have struck a similar tone. Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Greens, noted Sunday that the delta variant and others that may emerge could make vaccine requirements more attractive down the line.

While there are no current plans to require people to get vaccinated, he told the German news agency dpa that “I can’t rule out compulsory vaccinations for all time.”

Karl Lauterbach, a health expert from the center-left Social Democrats, spoke in favor of possible restrictions. He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that soon one of the only remaining options to fight new variants will be “to restrict access to spaces where many people come together” to those who have either been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.

Others immediately pushed back against Braun’s comments on Sunday. Some expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of such restrictions, while others warned against having rights based on one’s vaccination status.

“Of course, we need incentives to reach the highest possible vaccination rate,” Marco Buschmann, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.

Still, he said, if unvaccinated people who have been tested or recovered from the virus pose no greater danger than vaccinated people, to impose such restrictions on the unvaccinated “would be a violation of their basic rights.”

Rolf Mützenich, head of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, said politicians should be focusing more on getting willing citizens vaccinated than penalizing the unvaccinated.

“We’re not going to sustainably change the vaccination behavior of individuals with threats,” he told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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