Even as they engage in a desperate attempt to tarnish Peter Thiel, the libertarian tech billionaire who financed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against them, the once-mighty Gawker Media empire has seen its traffic drop to new lows.
According to Variety, Gawker’s traffic dropped by 37 percent in April, with unique visitors down to 44.4 million, its lowest point since December 2013. This represents a 41 percent drop compared to the same month last year.
The drop comes after Gawker pivoted away from its old mix of cutural commentary and controversial, invasive celebrity gossip to become a politics-focused site geared towards covering the 2016 election cycle.
Apparently the move has not been good for Gawker, which has taken a considerably worse hit than other sites, which also saw their traffic decline in the past month. But it’s not like the company has much of a choice.
The blogging empire is still reeling from a Florida court’s decision to demand the company pay $140 million in damages to Hulk Hogan, the former WWE star who became Gawker’s nemesis after they posted a clip from a sex tape featuring the wrestler in 2012.
But the company’s real problem was Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal founder, who Gawker previously outed as gay. After attracting Thiel’s enmity, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist spent nine years searching for potential plaintiffs with winnable cases against Gawker.
After revealing that it was he who financed the wrestler’s legal battle with the media company, Thiel said it was one of the more “philanthropic” things he had done in his life. Many agreed, starting the #ThankYouPeter hashtag to express their gratitude to the billionaire.
Most non-media people see that Gawker did not practice journalism as much as in bullying and fear. That's the reason people don't care.
— David Auerbach (@AuerbachKeller) May 28, 2016
Gawker, meanwhile, threw its toys out of the pram, publishing a furious screed from founder Nick Denton, calling Thiel “vindictive” and “thin-skinned,” and promising to report the “gruesome” details of his involvement in the Hogan case.
Since then, Gawker have run a number of hitpieces against Thiel, including one accusing him of defending people who say “Faggot” and “hope you die of AIDS.”
Denton has attracted considerable support from the rest of the media, particularly progressive web journalists, who have blasted Thiel — a libertarian who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Committee To Protect Journalists — for threatening their free speech. Vox Media-owned tech site Re/code even “empty chaired” Thiel at their recent tech conference after he refused to attend a live debate with Denton.
Although, conveniently, the press chose to ignore the people who said they would like to debate Denton on the issue of whether Gawker’s relentless violations of privacy really counted as “journalism.” These included author and lawyer Mike Cernovich, as well as former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, whose career Gawker helped ruin after it drew attention to politically incorrect tweets from Dickinson in 2013.
Incidents like Dickinson’s, and the more well-known case of Justine Sacco, who faced career ruin at the hands of Gawker for similar reasons, are probably the reason why ordinary members of social media chose to say #ThankYouPeter instead of “standing with Gawker,” as the rest of the tech media encouraged them to do. People still remember the chilling effect cast by Gawker over social media, where anyone making an off-colour joke feared being the subject of a career-ruining expose. Free speech is once again thriving on the web, in no small part because of Gawker’s decline.