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Sheryl Sandberg steps down as Facebook parent Meta COO

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Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has said she will leave the social media service after 14 years, marking the departure of one of the most prominent female executives in the United States at a time of tumult. for the company.

Sandberg, 52, helped build the world’s most profitable social network alongside Mark Zuckerberg, whom she met when the CEO was just 23 and still struggling to turn his viral site into a real business . She is also one of the world’s richest self-made billionaire women, who forged her own path as a champion of women’s empowerment while writing two bestselling books – one about women in the workplace and the another on the mourning of her late husband. . She is also a major Democratic donor.

But Sandberg’s tenure at Facebook was marred by repeated political controversies that tarnished her brand even as she tried to distance herself from them. This includes Russian operatives who planted misinformation about the service during the 2016 election, as well as the 2018 scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-affiliated consulting firm that siphoned off data from millions of Facebook users in ways inappropriate. Sandberg, who led the company’s political division during those incidents, also publicly downplayed Facebook’s role in the Jan. 6 uprising — a stance that was deemed a mistake after reports surfaced that a Extensive organizing for the Capitol Riots had taken place on Facebook services.

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“I’m not entirely sure what the future will bring – I’ve learned no one ever is,” Sandberg wrote on the social media site. “But I know it will mean focusing more on my foundation and my philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this time is for women.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Sandberg said she told Zuckerberg she would step down this weekend.

“Look, this is hard work. I’m not going to pretend otherwise,” she said. “But it was really about finding space and time in my life, like doing more for women and doing more with my foundation.”

During a Senate hearing on September 5, 2018, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg explained how data is collected and shared with advertisers. (Video: Reuters)

Now Sandberg will face the task of reinventing itself by breaking away from Facebook and its controversies – as the company goes through its own rebranding. Facebook changed its name to Meta last year and is trying to become a hardware company, a journey that executives say will take at least a decade, and which some industry experts are skeptical about. The company’s share price has fallen 44% year-to-date following lackluster results and news of losing users for the first time in its 18-year history. Many executives who did not want to be involved in building the next chapter have already left the company, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, over the past year.

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Sandberg said that in addition to focusing on her philanthropy, she will remarry this summer, marketing executive Tom Bernthal. Her former husband, Silicon Valley executive Dave Goldberg, died in 2015. She said she would continue to serve on the company’s board.

Few people on Facebook were surprised by his departure, a source of speculation for years. Over the past year, Facebook has expanded the roles of some top executives to report directly to Zuckerberg. This included the elevation of a key deputy, Marne Levine, to the newly created position of Chief Business Officer, and the elevation of Nick Clegg to President of Global Affairs.

Javier Olivan, a close friend and longtime colleague of Zuckerberg, will take on the role of chief operating officer, but the scope of the role would be more limited compared to Sandberg, Zuckerberg said in his own Facebook post on Wednesday. The CEO said he had no intention of replacing all of the responsibilities Sandberg held in a single position.

For years, Sandberg was one of Zuckerberg’s most trusted deputies, and people referred to the two informally as “co-CEOs.” Sandberg was an executive at Google when she was recruited to help grow Facebook’s business. In his blog post, Zuckerberg credited him with “architecting” the company’s burgeoning advertising business, hiring great people, and “teaching me how to run a business.” He also described their close personal relationship.

“I’m not sure people really appreciate how long it’s been running,” said Nu Wexler, a former Facebook communications manager. “Fourteen years in a social media company is rare for a non-founder, especially in a place that is in the spotlight every day.”

Sandberg leaves as Facebook’s business comes under threat from younger social media apps, particularly the short-form video service TikTok, which the company is copying with its own product, Reels. Facebook announced this year that it had lost daily users for the first time – down by around half a million users in the last three months of 2021, sending the company’s stock plummeting.

Facebook is also trying to get a facelift as a seller of virtual and augmented reality-powered devices. Its October name change to Meta signaled that the company planned to bet its future on creating the so-called Metaverse – a term used to describe immersive virtual environments accessible through virtual and augmented reality. Facebook predicts that people will want to work, play, and connect in these new digital realms.

Sandberg had long been the company’s main promoter in Washington, replacing Zuckerberg as a former top adviser to the Clinton administration. She maintained warm relations with Democrats under the Obama administration. In 2015, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) posted a photo with Sandberg in her Capitol Hill office on Facebook, thanking her “for inspiring women around the world to believe in themselves”.

Then-California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris posed side-by-side with Sandberg during an internet security event at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. In the fall of 2016, Washington insiders widely speculated that Hillary Clinton would appoint her to Cabinet in a role such as Treasury Secretary if she won the presidency.

But those political relationships soured rapidly under the Trump administration, when the Republicans’ surprise rise to power left Sandberg with few powerful connections in Washington. Sandberg and other Facebook executives have struggled to contain the political fallout following revelations of Russian interference in the social network and subsequent revelations from Cambridge Analytica.

Sandberg also alienated Democrats and civil rights groups. In September 2018, Sandberg was on Capitol Hill again — but this time in the hot seat to answer questions from lawmakers about the company’s missteps and its preparations for the midterm elections. Harris, by this point a senator, took a markedly different stance toward Sandberg, grilling the executive over the company’s record on hate speech.

Rashad Robinson, the president of racial justice organization Color of Change, said he had many meetings and calls with Sandberg, in which the advocacy group had made gains. They pushed the company to release a scathing audit of its civil rights handling, as well as to hire a diversity manager.

But Sandberg also made promises the company couldn’t or wouldn’t keep, or defended Zuckerberg and the company with “numerous indefensible actions,” Robinson said.

“Facebook continues to be a vehicle that does so much harm to our democracy, to civil rights, to so many things about our way of life,” he said. “Sheryl Sandberg and the brand she’s built are central to protecting the company through a lot of these actions and a lot of this behavior.”

Sandberg’s reputation has been so damaged in Democratic and civil rights circles that she once courted that some executives, including Pelosi, wouldn’t take calls from lobbyists or Facebook executives, The Post previously reported.

As Sandberg’s reputation fell, Clegg took on a bigger role in politically promoting Facebook’s Metaverse ambitions, while Sandberg focused on talks with foreign heads of state, people familiar with the matter said. his activities, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe them.

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Sandberg, who for years has sought to position herself as a champion for women in the workplace, is the author of the best-selling book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” in which she encourages women to promote themselves in companies. .

In recent months, Sandberg has focused her attention even more on being a public champion for small businesses, regularly speaking with entrepreneurs around the world about how they are adapting during the pandemic.

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Sandberg was also often the face of the company’s criticism of Apple’s new privacy changes that sought to reduce targeted advertising. Sandberg and other Facebook executives argued that the new changes would hurt small businesses’ ability to tailor their small marketing budgets to their customers.

“Honestly, I thought Sheryl would be the last man standing,” said a former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “I thought if Sheryl was going to leave, she would be gone during all the Trump controversies.”