If tech bad boy Elon Musk’s theme song would be Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did it Again” for his repeat tweet tantrums, surely George Thorogood’s 1980s rock anthem “Bad to the Bone” is earned by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. This sanctimonious dream team of deception and denial has built a formidable social media platform that many feel produces more harm than good.
The question now is whether it’s model is so insidious that it must be broken up by regulators, or can a change of leadership faces save the business? It’s worth a try.
New York Times investigators just revealed that Facebook engineers knew about Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election and convulsive U.K. Brexit vote since spring of 2016, which they confirmed in greater detail in the fall of 2016.
Other nations, from France to India and Malaysia, charged similar election interference and the promotion of incendiary hate speech in seditious campaigns—and even the promotion of ethnic cleansing. Zuckerberg and Sandberg denied this assault on democracies to the public and concealed it from their own board. Even internal memos in the spring of 2017 were censored with only tepid external comment with internal alarm mounting.
When former internal security experts went to the board’s audit committee in late 2017, Sandberg was vindictive, calling them disloyal.
In the spring of 2018, spiraling revelations of a decade of countless massive intentional user data privacy breeches beginning with The New York Times discovery of Cambridge Analytica’s invasion of 51 million users – which later grew to almost twice that number. Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s initial reaction was a pathetic six days of childish hiding as employees, advertisers, users and investors demanded answers.
The silence was broken only by a deputy general counsel’s vague address to demoralized employees followed by misleading defensive comments from Zuckerberg and Sandberg. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center showed serial intentional mass Facebook privacy invasions for a decade followed by insincere apologies and violations of Federal Trade Commission orders.
As deflection, Sandberg hired hitmen PR firms to conduct smear campaigns against Google and Apple as diversionary efforts. She also electronically stalked the actual Facebook use of U.S. Senators, investigating them and pressuring lawmakers to give them a pass.
This summer lawsuits charted that Facebook’s inflated its user base with, for example, the 18-to-34 age demographic in all 50 states exceeded the actual population of 18-to-34-year-olds who use Facebook.
Only this fall did Facebook cancel 1.5 billion fake accounts and create a content review board.
With its demoralized workforce and its tainted reputation, Facebook is becoming less of a magnet for top talent. Reports show recruiters viewing Facebook employment credentials as stains. Expensively acquired talent, such as the creative founders of Instagram and WhatsApp, have recently fled taking colleagues taking along with them.
Top advertisers such as Unilever and mega-agency Publicis have condemned this platform and begun diverting revenue.
The investors have taken a beating with shares down by over 25 percent this year.
While Zuckerberg is emperor for life, the board can at last lean in. He is enormously wealthy from other people’s money and must be accountable to them.
As CNBC’s Jim Cramer recommended, PepsiCo’s retiring Indra Nooyi should be brought in as chairman, clipping Zuckerberg’s wings. Other alternatives include Boeing’s Jim McNerney or Ford’s Mark Fields—all tech savvy, brilliant, accomplished and trusted leaders.
Don Graham, former boss of the Washington Post, tutored Zuckerberg past his impulsive early days and should return to the board.
Sheryl Sandberg has lost the legitimacy to lead and should be fired. Any employee who deceived the board, threatened and intimidated whistleblowers, and smeared rivals as did she would have been fired. It is time for her to lean out.