By BARBARA ORTUTAY and MICHAEL LIEDTKE – AP Technology Writers
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Sheryl Sandberg, the second-biggest executive at Facebook owner Meta, who helped transform his business from a startup into a digital advertising empire while also taking the blame for some of his biggest missteps, steps down return.
Sandberg was chief operating officer at the social media giant for 14 years. She joined from Google in 2008, four years before Facebook went public.
“When I started this position in 2008, I hoped to hold this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it’s time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday.
Sandberg ran Facebook’s advertising business — now Metas — and was responsible for growing it into a powerhouse with over $100 billion in annual revenue from its inception. As the company’s second most recognizable face – after CEO Mark Zuckerberg – Sandberg has also become a polarizing figure amid revelations about how some of her business decisions for Facebook have helped spread misinformation and hate speech.
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As one of the most prominent female leaders in the tech industry, she has also often been criticized for not doing enough for both women and others who have been harmed by Facebook’s products. Her expertise in public speaking, her seemingly effortless ability to bridge the worlds of technology, business, and politics, provided a sharp contrast to Zuckerberg, particularly in Facebook’s early years. But Zuckerberg has since caught up, partially training for the multiple congressional hearings he’s been asked to attend to defend Facebook’s practices.
Neither Sandberg nor Zuckerberg gave any indication that Sandberg’s resignation was not their decision. But she’s also seemed a little sidelined in recent years, as other executives close to Zuckerberg, like Chris Cox — who returned as chief product officer in 2020 after a year-long hiatus — rose to prominence.
“Sheryl Sandberg has had a tremendous impact on Facebook, Meta and the wider business community. She helped Facebook build a world-class ad buying platform and pioneered ad formats,” said Debra Aho Williamson, analyst at Insider Intelligence. However, she added that under Sandberg’s watch, Facebook has faced “major scandals” — including the 2016 US presidential election, the Cambridge Analytica privacy debacle in 2018, and the US Capitol riots in 2021.
And now Meta “is facing a slowdown in user growth and ad revenue that is now testing the business foundation on which the company was built,” she said. “The company needs to find a new way forward and perhaps this was the best time for Sandberg to leave.”
Sandberg is leaving Meta in the fall and will continue to serve on the company’s board of directors.
Zuckerberg said in his own Facebook post that Javier Olivan, who currently oversees key functions at Meta’s four main apps — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — will serve as Meta’s new COO. But it will be a different job than Sandberg has held for the past 14 years.
“It will be a more traditional COO role in which Javi will focus internally and operationally, building on his strong track record of making our execution more efficient and rigorous,” Zuckerberg wrote.
While Sandberg was Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for a long time, even sitting next to him — at least before the pandemic — at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., she also had a high-profile job, meeting with lawmakers and holding focus groups Speaking out on issues such as women in the workplace and most recently abortion.
“I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense to more tightly integrate our product and business units, rather than organizing all business and operational functions separately from our products,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Sandberg, who suddenly lost her husband Dave Goldberg in 2015, said she’s “not entirely sure what the future holds.”
“But I know it will involve focusing more on my foundation and philanthropy, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women,” she wrote, adding that they are also getting married this summer and their parents will be a part of this future too.
Sandberg, now 52, first helped Google build what quickly became the largest — and most lucrative — ad network on the web. But she left that post to take on the challenge of turning Facebook’s freewheeling social network into a lucrative business while also helping and mentoring Zuckerberg, who was 23 to 38 at the time.
She proved to be just what the then-immature Zuckerberg and the company needed at the right time, helping pave the way for Facebook’s much-anticipated IPO a decade ago.
While Zuckerberg remained the visionary and controlling shareholder of Facebook, Sandberg became the engine of a company fueled by a rapidly growing digital ads business that has become almost as successful as the one it cobbled together around the dominant search engine, Google.
Like Google’s advertising empire, Facebook’s business thrived on its ability to get its users to get more of its free service, while using its social networking services to learn more about people’s interests, habits, and whereabouts — a curious model that has repeatedly embroiled the company in debates about whether there is still a right to privacy in an increasingly digital age.
As one of the top female leaders in technology, Sandberg has at times been credited as an inspiration to working women — a role she seemed to be taking on with a 2013 bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will Lead.”
But “Lean In” immediately drew criticism. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Sandberg a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada boots,” and critics claimed she was the wrong person to lead a women’s movement.
She addressed some of these criticisms in a later book dealing with the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. In 2015, she became a symbol of heartbreaking grief when Goldberg died in an accident at work while on vacation, widowing her with two children while continuing to help run one of the world’s most well-known companies.
In recent years, Sandberg has emerged as a polarizing figure amid revelations about how some of her Facebook business decisions have helped spread misinformation and hate speech. Critics and a company whistleblower claim the fallout has undermined democracy and caused severe emotional distress for teenagers, especially girls.
The author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff, said Sandberg is as responsible as anyone for what Zuboff believes is one of Big Tech’s most insidious inventions: the collection and organization of data on behavior and preferences from social media users. For years, Facebook has shared user data not only with advertisers, but also with business partners.
Sandberg did this, Zuboff wrote, “through the artful manipulation of Facebook’s culture of intimacy and sharing.”
Zuboff calls Sandberg the “Typhoid Mary” of surveillance capitalism, the term for profiting from the collection of data from social media users’ online behavior, likes, shares, and relationships.
“Sheryl Sandberg may consider herself a feminist, but her decisions at Meta made social media platforms less safe for women, people of color and even threatened the American electoral system. Sandberg had the power to take action for fourteen years but consistently chose not to,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a gender justice organization that is calling for Sandberg’s resignation, in an emailed comment on Wednesday.
Sandberg has had some public missteps at the company, including her attempt to deflect blame from Facebook for the Jan. 6, 2021 riot in the US Capitol. In an interview later that same month, streamed by Reuters, she said she thinks the day’s events were “largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have ours.” Transparency.”
However, internal documents revealed later that year by whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that Facebook’s own employees were concerned about the company’s halting and often reversed response to rising extremism in the US sparked by the events of March 6 and 10 January culminated.
“Didn’t we have enough time to figure out how to conduct the discourse without enabling violence?” one staffer wrote to an internal message board at the height of the turmoil on Jan. 6. “We’ve been stoking this fire for a long time and shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control.”
AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this story.
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