Facebook’s public strategy outgrew Sheryl Sandberg

Jean J. Sanders

Around the past two a long time, the company’s public confront in authorities capitals has as an alternative been Nick Clegg, former deputy key minister of the U.K., who is now Meta’s president of world affairs. He has served as a de facto messenger-in-main, defending the company’s political track record in interviews, weblog posts and conversations with policymakers.

“Bringing Nick in was an acknowledgment they wanted somebody who could discuss politics,” mentioned Crystal Patterson, who labored at Fb for 7 decades on a assortment of political groups just before switching to lobby Democrats on Capitol Hill in February. “The approach they’ve taken by bringing Nick in, and becoming a tiny little bit more publicly calculated, is a reflection of how dangerous the political terrain is.”

Meta declined to comment for this write-up. Clegg and Sandberg did not reply to requests for remark.

Even though Clegg is not in control of Meta’s operational side like Sandberg was, that may perhaps be aspect of his enchantment — producing some length amongst his persona and the company he represents.

Clegg himself has leaned into his situation as an “outsider” to drive the information that he is honest.

“I’m an outsider to both Silicon Valley and Washington,” Clegg wrote in CNBC op-ed past yr, saying that helps make him the particular person who can broker compromises between Republicans and Democrats above tech regulation. “To make development, we will need to split the gridlock in DC,” he wrote, adding that “no 1 desires the standing quo.”

Sandberg, who declared Wednesday that she is leaving her main working officer article, came to Facebook with her personal political background as a former top aide to Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. But she lacked the higher-amount policymaking experience that Clegg delivers to the desk.

And Sandberg noticed her star decline as she fought to shield Facebook’s status at a time when the organization was freshly blindsided by accusations of mishandling its person data, enabling the distribute of Russian propaganda and spreading despise speech.

Sandberg has been sidelined from the company’s lobbying and general public relations do the job since shortly soon after the 2016 presidential election when Congress zeroed in on Facebook’s function in offering a system to Russian misinformation. Congressional aides would no longer accept any individual other than Zuckerberg to depict the enterprise on Capitol Hill, according to two people today familiar with the dynamic who were being granted anonymity to explore personal conversations.

“In the tech golden period, early on, users of Congress have been falling more than them selves to occur up to campus or to see Sheryl when she arrived,” mentioned Katie Harbath, who labored at Facebook’s D.C. place of work for extra than a decade as a Republican lobbyist just before leaving final calendar year. “Things really begun to turn” for Fb in 2016, she included.

As Zuckerberg was compelled into the political highlight, he defended Facebook’s palms-off method to moderating political speech in a manifesto-like speech at Georgetown in 2019, and met with a team of Democratic senators in September of that calendar year. He dined with then-President Donald Trump at the White House and hosted supper with substantial-profile conservative figures these types of as Fox News host Tucker Carlson — drawing criticism that he was aligning himself with the correct. In the past 4 several years, Zuckerberg has testified on Capitol Hill eight occasions.

But Zuckeberg has remained an generally problematic spokesperson for the corporation. Following revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen late last year, Zuckerberg painted Fb as a target of a smear marketing campaign, prompting criticism from lawmakers. And he was denounced by civil rights teams in excess of his final decision to acquire no action from a write-up from Trump threatening that “looters” would be shot in the course of the George Floyd protests in 2020.

Given that joining Fb, Clegg has taken some of that heat off Zuckerberg. Clegg has fired off site posts, statements and appeared in media appearances painting Facebook as a enterprise that is executing its most effective to deal with complex challenges and defend its end users. Clegg penned a blog site article titled “What the Wall Road Journal Obtained Incorrect” when the newspaper initial started publishing tales about Instagram’s negative impact on children’s mental health and fitness. The previous U.K. politician has insisted that Fb is open up to regulation although declining to apologize for the company’s perform.

Sandberg, in the meantime, struggled to recover from reputational hits like having partial responsibility for signing off on some get the job done finished by Definers, a Republican opposition study organization doing work for Facebook that cast billionaire liberal funder George Soros as the force powering anti-Facebook critics and served body senators as hypocritical for criticizing Fb though getting significant campaign donations from the organization.

Most just lately, Sandberg aggravated lawmakers when she downplayed Facebook’s part in the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill. (Proof in court documents has given that revealed that a lot of protesters used Facebook to converse about their illegal activities on that day.)

Weeks following her opinions, a Facebook marketing consultant texted a congressional aide insisting that Sandberg’s opinions have been not misleading and that she “never claimed Facebook bears no responsibility,” an aide instructed POLITICO.

“Sandberg sought to display she was correct the full time in terms of her responses about January 6 not being planned on Fb,” explained the senior Democratic Property aide, who spoke on issue of anonymity since they were being not approved to communicate on the file. “It was a completely ineffective cleanup.”

Even amid the criticism, even so, Sandberg designed a title for herself as the greatest-level executive at Fb who was keen to hear out social justice advocates and election integrity officers concerned about the social media platform’s contributions to societal ills. Sandberg sat down with civil legal rights group Shade of Improve after the Definers incident and pledged that Fb would conduct a civil rights audit. She oversaw the auditing system, which was led by civil rights attorney Laura Murphy, and committed to earning the platform safer for folks of coloration in its aftermath.

“Sheryl Sandberg time and time once more did make a determination to engage, to arrive at out, to try out to be in dialogue with civil rights groups,” stated Rashad Robinson, president of Coloration of Alter. “And she worked to try out to locate pathways to clear up a dilemma. I really do not imagine we would have gotten a public civil rights audit without the need of Sheryl.” Fb has since hired a vice president for civil rights. But Robinson reported the concern comes down to Zuckerberg’s limited manage about the enterprise.

“I really do not know who requires more than this work at a C-suite amount,” Robinson stated. “The exact individual that was in charge of Facebook right before this announcement is even now in charge of Fb now.”

Eventually, Zuckerberg has only concentrated a lot more electrical power more than the company’s choice-generating.

“At the close of the day, Mark nonetheless has the closing contact,” mentioned Harbath.

Zuckerberg introduced in Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of world public coverage, in 2011 — sparking decades of criticism that he has outsized manage around the company’s material moderation choices and is sympathetic to conservative figures. Facebook employees and outside critics have accused Kaplan of using his placement to cater to the GOP.

Sandberg, in the meantime, pushed to generate groups devoted to election integrity inside the business, which have become a central component of Facebook’s technique in combating election misinformation.

In new many years, Facebook has assumed much more duty above the articles circulating on its platform. The corporation clamped down noticeably on loathe speech and booted Trump from the platform in the wake of Jan. 6.

But Fb has considering that pivoted to the metaverse, each with the name modify and with Zuckerberg’s final decision to aim most of his interest to developing that digital-actuality entire world over the Fb platform.

That leaves Clegg as the crisis supervisor for Facebook’s knottiest concerns about misinformation and hate speech. He’s trying to navigate the opposing complaints from conservative and liberal arguments, searching for to carve out a pro-regulation stance that might appease equally sides of the aisle.

In that CNBC op-ed, Clegg stated he produced progress in the U.K. simply because he brought collectively centre-remaining and heart-correct politicians. “It worked because we targeted on generating development on the factors we agreed on,” Clegg wrote.

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