In recent days Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg both made statements addressing the company’s current public relations crisis. The differences between them are striking.
Zuckerberg was all business. After an initial, perfunctory tip of his hat to his family, he went on to describe what Facebook would do to stop or at least slow its technology from being used by nefarious people for nefarious purposes. He assured us that he “cares deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity.” And he did what a CEO should do – what he could in the moment to protect his brand. In the end, though, his statement was bland, bloodless. Passion about “the democratic process” was lacking, as was palpable remorse about what had gone wrong.
Sandberg’s statement was, on the other hand, much more deeply personal, and much more prepared to take responsibility. Her statement was brighter, bolder and in important ways better.
Two points of note:
First, Sandberg told us who she was. She was writing she said, “as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being.” Easy enough to admit to being a human being. Easy enough to admit to being a mother. Not so easy to admit, as it were, that she was a Jew. Zuckerberg is also a Jew. His failure to mention same does not make him a bad person. But her readiness to so testify assumes special resonance as well as importance in a context in which outbreaks of anti-Semitism have risen sharply.
Second, Sandberg took responsibility. She took responsibility for Facebook’s sloppiness, for its casual attitude toward posting hateful language which, she admitted, was “a fail on our part.” Similarly, she took responsibility for Facebook’s laxness in policing its own technology. Facebook, she admitted, did not discover various egregious offenses until others brought them to the company’s attention. Nor did it even, to its everlasting embarrassment, prepare for the dark side. “We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way – and that is on us. And we did not find it ourselves – and that is also on us.”
Sandberg’s iconic if controversial contribution to the national conversation was her 2013 quasi feminist tract, Lean In. Her argument struck a chord with numberless women who needed and, it turned out, wanted to be prodded to be assertive. With her post on how Facebook would face the current fiasco she did herself credit. She practiced what she preached. She leaned in.