Sheryl Sandberg steps down from Facebook’s Meta

Sheryl Sandberg, a long-time fixture at the social media giant Facebook, announced Wednesday afternoon that she’ll soon be stepping down from her role as the company’s chief operating officer.

After fourteen years as COO — the number-two position, second only to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, at one of the most powerful tech firms in the world — Sandberg’s exit comes at a moment of flux for parent company Meta, which has struggled with recent scandals and leaks while also attempting to pivot toward a nebulous new vision of social networking.

“When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years,” Sandberg wrote in a lengthy retrospective she posted — where else — on Facebook. “Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life.”

“I am not entirely sure what the future will bring,” she continued, “but I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work.”

A transition process will occur over the next few months, the outgoing executive added, before she departs in the fall. It won’t be a complete exit, though; Sandberg is slated to remain on Meta’s board of directors.

Facebook undertook a sweeping rebrand in 2021, reorganizing the titular social platform as well as Instagram, WhatsApp and other subsidiaries under the aegis of a new umbrella conglomerate called Meta. The new name was a nod to the company’s growing interest in the “metaverse” — a trendy yet still quite abstract vision of the internet’s future which emphasizes virtual reality and interactive digital environments — but was also seen by some as an effort to distract from the company’s ever-lengthening list of scandals.

Although the company’s public image had taken earlier hits thanks to concerns about viral election disinformation and the Cambridge Analytica scandal — which prompted criticism of its data privacy practices — a new set of issues blossomed late last year when a former employee leaked thousands of pages of company documents, revealing the extent to which Meta staff were internally aware of the company’s various social harms.

“Sandberg leaves behind a shameful legacy,” wrote the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a watchdog group focused on the company, in a statement Wednesday. “Her failed leadership enabled Facebook and its platforms to become the engine of disinformation that it is today.”

“Nothing will change at Facebook,” the group continued, “without real, independent oversight and regulation.”

In February, the company reported that its number of daily users shrank for the first time ever.

Sandberg’s public image has been shaped in large part by her 2013 book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” which put forth a vision of career-centric feminism that’s been in turns heralded as empowering and criticized as overly corporate. She came over to Facebook in 2008, four years before the social network went public, after having previously worked at Google.

In his own statement, also posted on Facebook, Zuckerberg deemed her exit the end of an era.

“When [Sandberg] joined me in 2008, I was only 23 years old and I barely knew anything about running a company,” the billionaire founder wrote. “Sheryl architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company. She created opportunities for millions of people around the world, and she deserves the credit for so much of what Meta is today.”

Zuckerberg said that he doesn’t plan on directly replacing Sandberg’s role — “I’m not sure that would be possible,” he said, adding that the company is now at a place where it makes less sense to explicitly delineate business operations from product ones — but that Javier Olivan, currently his chief growth officer, will take up the title of COO.

Olivan “will now lead our integrated ads and business products in addition to continuing to lead our infrastructure, integrity, analytics, marketing, corporate development and growth teams,” Zuckerberg said. Olivan’s purview currently includes the company’s “growth efforts, integrity, ads and business platform, commerce and social impact efforts,” according to his company bio.

According to a Meta spokesperson, Sandberg told Zuckerberg this weekend about her plans to step aside. Her exit comes on the heels of a similar move from former chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, who stepped down from that position in April.

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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