Sheryl Sandberg announced that she’s resigning from Facebook to focus on philanthropy. During her 14 years at the company, she’s done so much damage to our society that we may never recover. The simple truth is that you cannot simultaneously dedicate yourself to making untold fortunes for a giant corporation and to championing a social good while raking in tens of millions of dollars for yourself.
According to the New York Times Facebook, when backed into a corner during privacy and election problems, Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.
As The Times puts it, “As evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Zuckerberg and Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.”
During the Trump campaign, we got a taste of what a giant, mysterious corporation can do with all of that information. A political consultancy called Cambridge Analytica had gotten hold of the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users. That data was used in service of the “psychological warfare” that Steve Bannon wanted to wage against the American public. It sent voters down just the suitable rabbit holes; it whispered in their ears. It was a fooling-some-of-the-people-all-of-the-time operation.
Sandberg deployed some of her power as well. In Lean In, we were power-posing, assuming male levels of self-confidence, asking for big money, and knowing we deserved it. But when The Daily Mail attempted to publish something unflattering about Sandberg’s then-boyfriend, the Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, she seemed more like the head cheerleader standing up for the captain of the football team. On two separate occasions, she is said to have contacted The Daily Mail and successfully kept the information out of the paper. (The source of the critical story recanted some of it, and Sandberg denied pressuring the article, The Wall Street Journal reported.)
Ms. Sandberg had to go. She was supposed to be the grown-up in a room full of Millennial people with little business experience, but she failed spectacularly. She instead decided to focus on her brand by writing books and touring the country, talking at events while the house was on fire.
Ms. Sandberg is a typical corporate wolf who made much money at Facebook and wielded power without mercy even though it was unethical. This is the reality of today’s corporate America. She shouldn’t get a break because she is a woman.