Facebook’s long-time no.2 Sheryl Sandberg stands down


“But I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women,” she wrote, adding that she is also getting married this summer, and that parenting their expanded family of five children will also be a part of this future.

Sandberg has been credited with helping mentor Mark Zuckerberg in the early years of Facebook. Credit:Bloomberg

The adult in the room

Sandberg, 52, first helped Google build what quickly became the internet’s biggest — and most lucrative — advertising network before leaving that company to take on the challenge of transforming Facebook’s freewheeling social network into a money-making business while also helping to mentor Zuckerberg.

She proved to be exactly what the then-immature Zuckerberg and the company needed at the right time, helping to pave the way to Facebook’s highly anticipated initial public offering of stock a decade ago.

While Zuckerberg remained Facebook’s visionary and controlling shareholder, Sandberg became engine of a business fuelled by a rapidly growing digital ad business that has become nearly as successful as the one that she helped cobbled together around Google’s dominant search engine.

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Just like Google’s ad empire, Facebook’s business thrived on its ability to keep its users coming back for more of its free service while leveraging its social networking services to learn more about people’s interests, habits, and whereabouts — a nosy model that has repeatedly entangled the company into debates about whether a right to personal privacy still exists in an increasingly digital age.

As one of the top female executives in technology, Sandberg has at times has been held up as an inspiration for working women — a role she seemed to embrace with a best-selling 2013 book called Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead.

But “Lean In” received immediately criticism. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Sandberg a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots,” and critics suggested she is the wrong person to lead a women’s movement.

She addressed some of that criticism in a subsequent book that addressed the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. In 2015 she became a symbol of heartbreaking grief when Goldberg, died during an accident while working out on vacation, widowing her with her two children as she continued to help run one of the world’s best-known companies.

Cracks in the facade

In more recent years, Sandberg became a polarising figure amid revelations of how some of her business decisions for Facebook helped propagate misinformation and hate speech. Critics and a company whistleblower contend that the consequences have undermined democracy and caused severe emotional problems for teens, particularly girls.

The author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff, said Sandberg is as responsible as anyone for what Zuboff considers one of Big Tech’s most insidious invention: the collection and organisation of data on social media users’ behavior and preferences. That data was shared with advertisers — who might also sell it to data brokers — and proved immensely profitable. Sandberg did it, wrote Zuboff, “through the artful manipulation of Facebook’s culture of intimacy and sharing.”

Zuboff calls Sandberg the “Typhoid Mary” of surveillance capitalism.

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“Sandberg may fancy herself a feminist, but under her leadership Facebook has become a right-wing playground where misogyny, racism, disinformation, violent organising, and hateful conspiracy theories grow and spread,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a gender justice advocacy organisation, in an April 22 email calling for Sandberg’s resignation. “For years, Sandberg has been in an optimal position to make Facebook safer for women, but like CEO Mark Zuckerberg, she has consistently failed to take action.”

Sandberg has had some public missteps at the company, including her attempt to deflect blame from Facebook for the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. In an interview later that month that was streamed by Reuters, she said she thought the events of the day were “largely organised on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency.”

That turned out to be untrue. Internal documents, revealed by whistleblower Frances Haugen later that year, showed that Facebook’s own employees were concerned about the company’s halting and often reversed response to rising extremism in the US.

“Haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without enabling violence?” one employee wrote on an internal message board at the height of the January 6 turmoil. “We’ve been fuelling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control.”



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