By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) — “We have to recognize the full weight of our responsibilities,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the graduates at last spring’s MIT commencement. But has she been practicing what she preaches?

Sandberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have maintained they didn’t know about Russian manipulation of their website during the 2016 election and moved aggressively to stop it once they did know.

But according to New York Times reporting, they actually “ignored warning signs” of Russian interference and “sought to conceal them from public view.” And that’s not all.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations’ use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg faced questions about how foreign operatives use their platforms in attempts to influence and manipulate public opinion. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Times found Facebook contracted with a right-leaning Washington D.C. consulting firm called Definers Public Affairs which reportedly promoted public criticism of competitors Apple and Google and “played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.” That firm also allegedly tried to smear Facebook critics by linking them to controversial billionaire donor and philanthropist George Soros and suggest that those critics were somehow anti-semitic.

In an exclusive CBS phone interview, Sandberg denied everything, claiming: “I wasn’t involved in any of that.”

But Sen. Amo Klobuchar, once a Sandberg friend, is unpersuaded. “The question still remains, what did they do, and how much did they spend on it and did they spend it against elected officials?” she asks. Klobuchar is one of four senators calling for a federal probe of what Facebook executives knew and when they knew it.

But for now, Sandberg’s mantra remains – do as I say, not as I do.

“It’s not enough to have a good idea,” she told those MIT grads. “You have to know when to stop a bad one”

There’s much more in the Times expose, which paints Sandberg as a ruthless, growth-obsessed executive unwilling to honestly address Facebook’s glaring flaws, quite a contrast with her self-styled image as an enlightened private-sector role model. It’s a comedown comparable to what’s happened to the tech industry itself, once revered as a force for positive social change, now increasingly reviled as a case study in placing greed over the public good.

Jon Keller

Comments (2)
  1. Theodore Oule says:

    Are you surprized, Jon?

    For that matter, is anyone surprised?

    As one reads the various opinion columns and comments thereon, there seems to be a cry that Sandberg and Zuckerberg need to be punished, and punished harshly. And the mood is that it is the government that needs to step in to do the punishing.

    I even saw one remark in the Washington Post that suggested that social medial platforms need to be “regulated the way newspapers used to be”.

    Ponder that last point for a moment or two.

    I have to agree that the two Facebook execs, and the rest of their “management team” need to be made to pay for their arrogance and willful continuance of the improper activities of their “teams”. Directions for the “teams” certainly come from the top.

    But, what astounds me is the number of seemingly educated people who either don’t know or have granted what regulatory authority that there is more power than they actually is. And in the case of the regulation of the newspapers, the thinking that there has actually been governmental regulation of newspapers in the past.

    Are we THAT ignorant as a body politic? And, if our body politic is THAT ignorant, what does that mean for the future of democracy and the willingness to accept the dictates thereof?

    Perhaps in one of your future pieces you could explore those very relevant topics.