Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Corporate takedowns: Gawker

This is the final entry in a series of four posts about corporate takedowns.  The first post was about American Apparel.  The second post was about Theranos.  Last week’s post was about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.  Today’s post will discuss Gawker.

Gawker was a blog website focused on New York City celebrity and media news and gossip.  It was launched in 2002 and was a popular source of often controversial content about famous people and prominent organizations.  Gawker faced first public scrutiny and later legal battles about posting videos, e-mails, and other private information that was suspected to have been improperly obtained or in violation of confidentiality or copyright interests.  In 2016, the end of a protracted legal battle over one such posting led to a $140 million legal judgment against Gawker and the company’s resulting bankruptcy.

The demise of Gawker represents an interesting case study into privacy of public figures, media practices, and the use of legal test cases to impact corporate and/or public policy.

  • This poignant, disturbing, and provocative “obituary” for Gawker, posted on the event of the website’s shutdown post-bankruptcy, tells the story of the objective behind the lawsuit that led to its financial collapse and questions the impact of tremendous personal wealth on the American legal system and the press:  Gawker Was Murdered by Gaslight
  • Here’s another behind-the-scenes deep dive into the various forces at play (external and internal) that brought about the end of Gawker, some of which drove deep into the organizational culture of the company:  Did I Kill Gawker?
  • This Forbes investigation from 2016 exposed the true financial backing and motive of the lawsuit that brought Gawker down, giving a fascinating look into why wealthy people fund test cases and other litigation in which they would seemingly have no discernible personal interest:  This Silicon Valley Billionaire Has Been Secretly Funding Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuits Against Gawker
  • Wealthy individuals who seek to induce corporate suicide via bankrolling lawsuits against the company may even see doing so as an investment:  Peter Thiel had a co-conspirator in masterplan to bring down Gawker
  • This Vanity Fair piece goes into deep detail about other, possibly illegal, methods considered to seek retribution against Gawker before the legal judgment that dealt the media website its death blow, and the unexpected corporate interests which may have been caught up in these machinations:  The Thiel-Gawker Saga Takes An Even Darker Turn
  • What was the real impact of Gawker, on its surface a facetious and even immature gossip site that nevertheless had deeper cultural impact as a media organization, and what role could it have played had it survived?  This post-mortem on the one year anniversary of the site’s shuttering takes a look at what could have been:  Gawker has been gone for a year.  We’ve never needed it more than now.
  • For example, what would Gawker have had to say in the #MeToo era, in addition to what it might have already tried to bring to light long before?:  A complicated question amid the Louis C.K. fallout: Do we miss Gawker?
  • In a broader sense, what’s the “digital legacy” of defunct websites – particularly those of news organizations?:  The Internet Isn’t Forever
  • Like Gawker, sites which publish investigations and exposes they position as “adversarial journalism” confront similar fears about what will happen to their work if it’s threatened by wealthy owners or purchasers who want to eliminate what they see as unfavorable coverage:  Saving Gawker and Alt-Weeklies From Deletion
  • One of the main concerns in the future handling of Gawker’s “digital legacy” was that the financially-powerful backer of the litigation that caused Gawker’s bankruptcy could buy the defunct site and gain control over its archive of articles.  A recent agreement has ensured that this clearly-conflicted arrangement won’t happen:  Peter Thiel Ends Bid to Buy Gawker

For much more on the lawsuit that brought an end to Gawker, check out the Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free PressThis Atlantic article discusses the movie in good detail.  This Wired article also offers an interesting perspective on the complex and conflicting presentation of the Gawker case.

This is the official trailer for the movie:

For another look at the use of litigation and test cases to litigate social and political issues between individuals and organizations, check out this post on sexual harassment in Silicon Valley corporate culture.

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