Facebook’s Sherly Sandberg
Dylan Byers: Hey, it's Dylan Byers, senior media reporter for NBC News. You're listening to Byers Market. (MUSIC) Welcome to the first episode of The Byers Market podcast. My guest today probably could have run for president three years ago. Sheryl Sandberg was widely seen as the mastermind behind Facebook's revenue growth, one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley, and the ultimate role model for many women in business.
That was before Facebook was blamed for pretty much everything. Cambridge Analytica and the abuse of user data, Russian trolls in 2016 election interference, fake news and misinformation, the unchecked power of Big Tech, the list goes on. Facebook has basically become public enemy number one.
Sheryl was hit hard by that change. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg was the all-powerful CEO. But Sheryl was supposed to be the, quote unquote, "Adult" in the room. An increasingly hostile media now depicted Sheryl as cold, calculating, someone who's more interested in saving Facebook's reputation and saving her own reputation than in dealing with the company's actual problems.
That's partly how Sheryl is depicted in a new book by veteran journalist Steven Levy, which came out this week. And in fact, this is the first time Sheryl has addressed that book and her portrayal in it. But there are signs that both Sheryl and Facebook are turning over a new leaf. And yet, Sheryl's future at the company is still very much an open question. Here's my conversation with Sheryl Sandberg from yesterday.
Byers: I feel like congratulations are in order 'cause you're engaged.
Sheryl Sandberg: I am engaged.
Sandberg: Thank you.
Byers: That a really big deal.
Sandberg: It is such a big deal.
Byers: So it's Tom Bernthal. And where did he propose?
Sandberg: So he proposed in New Mexico on a ranch. It was like me, him and, you know, 5,000 elk. (LAUGHTER) But importantly, and this matters to me, we planned our engagement together. And I--
Byers: What does that mean?
Sandberg: Well, I've thought a lot about this. I said to a really close friend the weekend before, couple days before we went, "I'm getting engaged this weekend." And my friend said to me, "How do you know?" I said, "How do I know? This is like the biggest decision you could make in your personal life. I'm a fully formed adult partner making that decision." And I do think--
Byers: That's not how most people do it.
Byers: Most people do it like, you know, when's the guy going to ask?
Sandberg: Correct. And I think it's a problem. So look, I've been on the record for a long time talking about getting to equality. And the other thing I've understood in my own life and seen in all my friends' lives is one of the reasons we're having such a hard time getting to equality in the workplace, I mean we're not close, right?
Sandberg: 6-7% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs. It's been decades, right?
Sandberg: We're just not at equality in the home. Women do the majority of childcare and housework. And as long as that's true, women are never going to get to the same place in the workplace. Equality means everywhere. And then, when you think about kind of the inequality of relationships, dating is a place that really, it's still incredibly unequal. You know, the local middle school, all the boys are making posters for the girls, asking them to prom.
Sandberg: And when you ask, like, "Are the girls asking the boys?" "A few." Better than when I was there. But--
Byers: We had a thing at my high school where it was, there was tolo (PH), where the guys asked the girls. And then, somewhere along the line, they created olot (PH), which was just it background. And then the girls asked the guys. Which I thought was really cool. But that was like the one-off.
Byers: And then everything else was-- so was he, was Tom cool with this?
Sandberg: Yeah. I mean so we talked about it a bunch. And I think there was a part of him that wanted to just do the whole surprise proposal. And there was a part of me that really wanted that.
Sandberg: I mean I grew up with the Disney Fairytale thing too.
Sandberg: And especially I think--
Byers: Down on one knee.
Sandberg: Yeah. And especially--
Byers: Out of nowhere.
Sandberg: --I think with one, with what I've been through, I want romance and a fairytale ending that I, you know, I kind of thought I had, and then I lost very dramatically and very suddenly.
Sandberg: But we talked about it a lot. And we have five kids. We have two sons and we have three daughters. And, you know, I look at all these amazing young women I talked to, these amazing women. And they're totally strong, and they take charge of their education, they take charge of their career. And then in a relationship, they're like, "Yeah, I want to get married. I hope he brings it up."
Byers: Yeah. (LAUGHTER)
Sandberg: And that's setting up a relationship that's not going to be equal. And so what we did is, you know, we decided to get married together.
Sandberg: We picked out a ring together. We picked out a weekend together, like, "We are going to get engaged that weekend." So it was the last weekend of January.
Sandberg: And then he planned the weekend, he took me on a surprise hike. There was a surprise picnic at the top of this mountain, which was super cute and sweet. And he did, in fact, get down on one knee and propose. So I got a bit of that, but within the construct of we were able to say to our children, "We planned this together."
Sandberg: I was able to say, you know, another thing we did, you know, there's this also tradition that's still alive and well of men ask a father for a hand. That's still happening. Like, really?
Byers: I did that.
Sandberg: And that's great. (LAUGHTER) A lot of people are going to do it. But think about asking a father for a hand in marriage and the kind of--
Byers: No, it is strangely archaic. The whole thing is strangely archaic, especially at a time when there's a narrative about working towards equality and all that.
Sandberg: Right. So what we did is, the weekend before, all four of our parents were in town, and we sat down with all four parents, so our mothers as well as our fathers, and we said, "We're going to get engaged next weekend." We kind of asked them for their blessing together.
Byers: That's cool.
Sandberg: I didn't ask his-- no one asked anyone's permission, but their blessing. So it was done in a more egalitarian way. And I think that's important.
Byers: Yeah. And you've addressed this. You've written about this a lot. But you the look about the sort of storybook romance that you had with Dave. How has this process helped you move on from that, which was obviously an incredibly trying experience for you?
Sandberg: You know, I married someone I was really happy, very much in love. We have two amazing children. And then he died suddenly, overnight, out of nowhere. You know, just (SNAP) like this.
Byers: Right. Right.
Sandberg: And, you know, and that is about as big of a shock, and one of the hardest this anyone can go through. And there's obviously a lot of hard stuff that happens to a lot of people. And I think this is up there. And certainly nothing like I'd ever experienced before. But that was almost five years ago.
Sandberg: And so I think when that happened, you know, Dave and I, we used to play Scrabble at my kitchen table. And then I would be sitting at the kitchen table, and I would kind of picture myself there, growing old alone. And that was really scary.
Sandberg: Now my kids are getting older, and inevitably, one day, they're gonna go to college and leave. And they already now are in middle school and high school. And they have all these plans all of a sudden. And so being able to find someone that I can then say again, "Yes, I found someone that I wanna spend the rest of my life with," is pretty amazing.
Byers: Yeah. Congrats, seriously.
Sandberg: Thank you. And I probably appreciate it even more on the other side.
Byers: Yeah. So there's this book that came out this week by Steven Levy about Facebook. And one of the things, speaking of Dave, one of the things that came up was there is this sort of implication and suggestion in the book that when Facebook was approaching sort of the beginning of the shit storm that you guys have been dealing with now for three or four years, leading up to the 2016 election, that coincided with when Dave died, and that you were, I believe the words that Steven Levy uses are, that you were not operating at full capacity, and that he sort of implies that that had hit you so hard that you sort of took your eye off the ball, and that that might have contributed both to Facebook not getting ahead of same of the problems you dealt with in 2016, and then also, sort of your own, the way you personally dealt with some of these issues. Do you think that's a fair-- ?
Sandberg: I think half of it's totally fair and half of it's just clearly wrong.
Byers: Okay, which part is fair?
Sandberg: Well, so the half that's fair is I was completely devastated when Dave died. Dave died May 1st, 2015.
Sandberg: In the Jewish tradition, there's a seven-day period of intense mourning. I took that off. And then, based on the experts I was lucky enough to talk to, my kids went back to school after ten days, and I went back to work. I came back to work part time. I drove my kids to school and picked them up every day. And, you know, it took time. There were days I think I could barely focus. And then it would get better, and then it would get worse. And, you know, it took days, weeks, months to really feel like myself again.
Sandberg: And so it's absolutely true that, after Dave's death, I was not operating at full capacity, and I was devastated. I think to connect that to 18 months later missing Russian interference, the election, is, like, more than a stretch. And I'll explain why.
You know, we absolutely missed what was Russian interference in the election. If you look back to 2016, and you think about safeguarding against foreign actors, state actors, we did that. What state actors did was hack. They stole information. This was the Podesta e-mails, the Sony e-mails. We had a big operation preventing against that.
But what we totally missed was a new kind of thing, which was not stealing stuff, but writing fake stuff. We missed it, full stop, and that is on us. Everyone missed it. Government missed it. Everyone missed it. That's also true. But to connect that miss 18 months later with the devastation of Dave's death I think is--
Byers: He's so--
Sandberg: --not real.
Byers: He's, like, can be somewhat unforgiving in terms of his depiction of you. And you're probably familiar with this by now, now that the book's out. But he says here sort of two thirds of the way through the book, "Sandberg could be a challenge to work with. Despite her public persona as a corporate goddess of sympathy, she was prone to yelling at subordinates when they did not live up to her considerable demands. She could be obsessed with her public image. When Facebook came under scrutiny after the election, Sandberg became even more conscious of her image." Where are we at? Where are we like halfway right? Are we fully right?
Sandberg: Yeah, I mean look, I of course care about my reputation. I'm human. I don't know anyone, when they're honest, that doesn't. But do I think I'm obsessed with it or abnormally so? Not at all. I mean I come in to work every day, working incredibly hard. The people around me are working hard. We are handling some of the biggest problems in the with.
Sandberg: And if we were optimizing or making decisions that would make us look good, we would make very different decisions. We make hard calls. And those calls make people really unhappy. And in terms of working with me, you know, I've worked for a long time. I have hired and managed tens of thousands of people. And that means I've fired a good number. And I'll be the first to say I am a demanding boss, and I am a tough boss, I think a very fair boss. But I'm demanding, and I have very high standards.
Byers: Do you agree with the depiction that you yell, that you're prone to yell at subordinates?
Sandberg: You know, it makes me think of the Marlo Thomas quote. She's great quote. She's the best. She says, "For a man to be ruthless he has to be Joe McCarthy. (CHUCKLE) For a woman to be ruthless, she has to put you on hold." For you to say a man is yelling at the workplace, he has to be Steve Jobs, Steve Bahlmer.
Sandberg: He has to, like, scream. For someone to say a woman is yelling, you have to raise your voice or sound tense. It's a very different thing.
Byers: So and it's sort of hard to know, because Steven doesn't exactly provide anecdotes in the book. But it seems to me like maybe you have yelled at people in the past, which is sort of-- I've worked for four different companies, all run by men. I've never worked for a company where I haven't heard the CEO yelling at someone.
I mean I guess what I'm wondering is do you feel like the depiction of you here is that you are irrationally emotional and that you blow up at staff. And I guess what I'm wondering is do you think what you do is that you are a demanding boss who is being judged by a different standard?
Sandberg: I think I'm a demanding boss. But I think I'm a fair boss.
Sandberg: And I think if you ask people that work for me and with me, what they would say is that I'm really demanding, really tough, but I make them better. But I think they would also say I'm really caring. That I really care about their lives, and I really care about them.
And let's be clear, I'm the boss, so a lot of people will say that to me, and I get that I have to discount that. But I think my track record's pretty clear in that people vote with their feet. People have followed me from job to job to job. And people have worked for me and on different teams of mine for decades.
Sandberg: And I think that shows that, (MUSIC) you know, people will say that I help them be their best. And that's definitely what I try to do.
Byers: More with Sheryl Sandberg after this break.
Byers: You wrote Lean In. Obviously, you've been a role model for women in business. There was a time I think before the shit storm hit in 2016 that you could have run for president. Do you feel like some of this criticism is warranted, or do you feel like there's a gender card being played?
Sandberg: It's really hard to separate out gender from how we see people. It's really hard to separate race from how we see people. I mean I wrote a whole book explaining how women and men are judged by different standards, how women and men even have different roles writing proposals, as we were talking about.
But look, we are an enormously important company. And I have an enormous responsibility. And there are that's that Mark and I and our teams missed in 2016. I don't believe we're missing those now. But we are working hard to correct the mistakes of the past, but also, to get ahead of the future. And I think a lot of the scrutiny certainly is fair. People should be looking hard at what we're doing. And I think looking hard at have we learned from the things that went wrong before?
Byers: So, and I--
Sandberg: And doing it differently.
Byers: And I wanna get to that, and I wanna get to what you guys are doing to deal with your problems and with the business of Facebook. But first, just in terms of Mark, the way Mark is depicted in this book, to me, is there's sort of two Marks. There's like the naive genius who doesn't quite realize what he's unleashed upon the world, and then there's sort of this calculating guy who's obsessed with this idea of sucking up all the world's data and creating this, like, government style database where all of our data will be available, whether we like that or not. Which of those two is more right, or where is the Mark you know, and how would you portray Mark in a paragraph where you had to write a book about him?
Sandberg: I mean I wish so much the world could see the Mark I know. And on this I know I'm right, 'cause I know him really well. We have worked side by side for I think next month will be 12 years. Mark is an enormously, enormously talented guy. He has a great product sense. He really actually-- people think he doesn't understand people. That's just clearly wrong. He built Facebook. Right?
Byers: Right. (CHUCKLE)
Sandberg: I mean right? He understood.
Byers: He understands 2.5 billion people, yeah.
Sandberg: Well, he understood that people had this really strong desire to share. He also understands that people want a personalized experience. You know, people are concerned a lot about our data and how we use data. And I think we have a lot of work to do to explain how our business works.
But at the end of the day, we are using the information people provide us with, it's their information, to give them a personal experience. Mark understood that people did not want to hear the same things as everyone else, that three television stations wasn't good enough. "I wanna hear from my friends. I wanna hear from you. I wanna hear from my friends. I wanna hear from my mom." My mom's great. But you probably don't wanna hear from my mom. Right? And you and I have different things.
But the other thing that I think I really wish people understood about Mark is a couple things. Mark is the best listener I've ever met. So when people describe him as having these awkward pauses, which I don't even think is--
Byers: That's a thing in the Levy book, too.
Sandberg: Yeah. And I don't even think-- I think that was more true earlier on. I don't even think that's so true anymore. But definitely sometimes it still happens. Mark is listening. And he is listening more intently than anyone I've ever met.
You could have a meeting with Mark on something small. And he can repeat back almost verbatim what you and everyone had said six months ago. It's incredible. And he's that because he is listening really intently.
But the other thing I really wish people understood about Mark is just how loving, caring, funny. He's the greatest guy. I mean through some of the most important moments in my life, but also some of the hardest, no one has been there more than Mark and Priscilla. And they are, and he is, such an empathetic, great human being.
And he's brilliant. And he applies that brilliance to the personal stuff I mean I'll share a very personal one. When I first came back to work, I felt like no one was talking to me. I just felt like everywhere I went, there was silence. I would walk--
Byers: You're talking about when you first came back to work--
Sandberg: Sorry, came back to work after Dave died, yeah. Sorry.
Sandberg: When I first came back to work after Dave died, it was like I could walk in, I could silence any room by just walking. You know, normally you walk into a room before a meeting, everyone's chit chatting? Silence. And it felt terrible.
And I couldn't quite understand it. And I went to Mark, I was like, "No one talks to me." And he said, "They're afraid. Everyone wants to talk to you. They're afraid they're gonna say the wrong thing, so they're not saying anything at all." I didn't understand that at all. I just felt like it was pure silence.
And he was able to not only tell me that, but he then, I think, went and had some conversations with some of the people who are closer around us and said, "Guys, talk to her. Talk to her. We're all being-- " he wasn't being silent, "But everyone's being kinda silent when she walks around. We've gotta fix this for her."
Sandberg: He's amazing. He's special guy.
Byers: So this will sound familiar. This isn't the Mark that you know. But this will sound familiar to you. In the world of Facebook's critics, Mark is seen as the person I described, which is sort of an awkward spokesperson for the company, who has this maniacal obsession with data. And then you are seen as someone who, for a moment before everything went south, as being the sort of adult in the room and being very personable.
And then now you're sort of seen as this overly scripted, and we get back to the, you know, public relations obsessed person. And I guess what I wonder is, is there a way that you believe that you guys can sort of recapture your public image and recapture the narrative and sort of bring the public, or at least the concerned public who critiques everything you guys do, to see this side of you? Or are you operating at such a deficit now because you've endured three or four years of scandal and controversy, that you just have to sort of charge ahead with the business and maybe stop worrying so much about your public image?
Sandberg: I mean I think we don't spend that much time worrying (CHUCKLE) about our public image. And I think that actually should be pretty apparent, given what we do and how we do it. The issue is not what people think of me or Mark personally. What it issue is, how are we doing as a company? How do we provide a great service? And how do we prevent some of the harms that happened before?
Byers: Okay, so I wanna--
Sandberg: And I really think-- sorry.
Byers: I wanna get into this.
Byers: Very shortly. But I think what's so interesting to me about Facebook is that people actually do really care about Mark and they care about you in a way that, like, somehow at Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were able to just sort of like walk off into the sunset and pretend like they didn't-- you know what I mean? Not even show up to a Congressional hearing, right?
There's a weird cultive personality that surrounds Mark and that was willing to see him, at one point, as the sort of, you know, brilliant visionary of the future, and then see him as sort of public enemy number one because of all these controversies and scandals. And before we get into the actual business of it, I guess what I'm just wondering is do you think about is it too late to save that public reputation for you and Mark because of all that negative press?
Sandberg: So a couple things. One, I'm not sure the Larry/Sergey analogy holds, because Larry wasn't CEO through that formative time. Eric was. You know, if you look actually at Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, you look at these founders who, you know, also became CEO of the company, I think Mark's public profile is more like them, because they were the founders who ran the company through that first decade.
Byers: Sure. Sure.
Sandberg: You know, so I think that's relevant. But the second thing is that, like, it's the old adage, right? You're never as good as they say you are when they say you're perfect, and you're never as bad as they say you are when you say you're terrible.
Sandberg: None of it.
Byers: They did think you were pretty perfect for a while, and then they thought you were pretty bad. And I think they still think you guys are pretty bad. Not the users, of which you have 2.5, 2.7 billion, whatever it is. But the sort of, you know, the New York media, DC political establishment, a lot of critics, by the way here in--it's not just them, it's also-- you could write that off as, you know, Congress you could say is inept. You could say the media doesn't know what it's talking about. You've got critics here in Silicon Valley, you know, who are quite vocal. And I guess what I just, you know, do you have a way back in? Is there a way to sort of correct?
Sandberg: I think what we have to do is fix the problems we've had historically in Facebook, show that we can safeguard elections, protect elections, show that free expression is thriving on our platform, show that we can systematically find hate and take it off, show that, you, examples like the Coronavirus, where misinformation's, you know, gonna cause a big problem, we can get at it fast and early enough that--
Byers: And you got at that this week, actually.
Sandberg: And I think we're doing that very well, hopefully, you know.
Sandberg: And we're gonna continue to focus. We can always be vigilant. I think we have a really big job to do. And I think people have correctly noted where lots of ways we fell down. And I'd like them to see, going forward, that we are running the company differently, we are doing things differently.
You know, if you look at our preparedness for elections in 2016, where we missed it, versus 2018, versus today, you know, they're a totally different thing. And that is the job Mark and I have to do every day. (MUSIC) And whatever reputation he and I have has to follow from that, because the work is more important.
Byers: We'll be right back.
Byers: Okay, so the reputation rides on the business. So let's talk about the business a little bit. If you look at what critics of the company say, at a certain point, the criticism of Facebook is not about one thing you guys are doing wrong. Oftentimes it's very structural. It has to do with the business model of Facebook itself.
There's this notion that you guys are relentless in your pursuit of user data. And you, meanwhile, historically, at least, Facebook has said, "We're here to connect the world. We're here to make the world a better place." Critics have said, "No, you're not, you're sucking up all of our data. You're using it for ad revenue. You're using it to learn more about us than we want you to know."
At any point, do you feel compelled to stop the sort of rosier narrative of connecting the world, and just go for it and say, "You know, what? We do collect your data. And here's why we do it. We do it for a very simple reason, which is that it gives you a better user experience."
Sandberg: Yeah, like, it know we have done, and this is really, I think, on me, not a good job of explaining our business model. So this is a great opportunity to do it. People give us information. One thing that's pretty interesting is the kind of information people give us.
So people give us information on their age, their birth date, their gender. We have lots of choices for that, as they come in. They tell us who their friends are, because they wanna connect with their friends. Whatever journalists, if they're following you, if they're following other journalists, what things they type of like. And that information enables us to provide a personalized experience. What's pretty fascinating about Facebook is we have 2.9 billion users across the family of apps. And--
Byers: I have been saying 2.5 and 2.7 and now it's 2.9.
Sandberg: It's 2.9. (LAUGHTER) Just in the time-- in the time we did this podcast--
Byers: Sorry. By bad. (LAUGHTER)
Sandberg: Not at all. Well, that's across the family of apps.
Byers: Oh, right, right. Okay.
Sandberg: So that's an aggregate number across all four. But it's really interesting to think about the fact that not any two people have the exact same Facebook experience. That's because we know more about you. It is your information which enables us to give you a personalized experience.
Sandberg: And without that, we can give you a front page of a newspaper that everyone else can give you, and it has to be the same. And no one would want that. Then there's the business model. And I do think there is growing concern, which is based on a lack of understanding, that we are using people's information in a bad way, we are selling it, we are giving it away, we are violating it. None of that's true. We do not sell data. We do not give away information without people's permission. And I don't mean some--
Byers: But no, you don't sell data, but you monetize data.
Sandberg: Well, here's what we do.
Sandberg: We take your information, and we show you personalized ads. So I'll give you an example, and I love this example, 'cause I met this woman in the woman's bathroom. And my favorite cartoon of all time is a woman walking into a men's bathroom, and there's a conference table and they're having a meeting in there without her. And she's like, "I knew it!" (CHUCKLE) So I love this story, because I met this woman in the women's bathroom, which feels like the anecdote to that.
So I met this woman, Rebecca, in the women's bathroom. And she runs a dog hotel in a certain part of London. And she said, "Thank you, because my whole business has grown on Facebook and Instagram." She said, "When I started, and even now, I can't afford to buy an ad to all of London. There's no other place to find dog lovers. But on Facebook and Instagram, I was able to spend a tiny amount of money and find dog lovers who are in my little part of London." And that's how she grew her business. And now she's had 1,000 guests at her dog hotel, and she's opened a dog spa.
The information we have which enables us to identify people we think might be dog lovers, who live in her part of London, enables us to do that. But we don't give her any information. I said to her, "So do we give you the names of the people?" She's like, "No!" You know, and of course most people wished we would.
Sandberg: We don't give her any of that. We just take the ad, we use that information to show it to the right people, and then those people walk into her store. And I think when people think this ad is really personalized and they believe their information's been protected, it's actually a much better experience. No one believes this, but it's true, the number one thing we hear from people about our ads, what do you think it is?
Sandberg: "Why is this ad not relevant to me you know so much about me?"
Sandberg: Isn't that interesting? People want it to be more personal, more relevant. They don't want stuff that's not--
Sandberg: --pertaining to them.
Byers: Well, and look, like you take something like Instagram and all of a sudden now I can, like, buy clothes through Instagram 'cause Instagram knows what kind of clothes I wanna buy, that's extraordinarily helpful.
Sandberg: But do you like that experience or does it feel creepy to you?
Byers: No, I do. And by the way, look, I think if you look at GDPR in Europe, for instance, there have been times where you guys have been forced or have decided to give people the option to not share so much of their data. And I think, by and large, a lot of the people elect to continue sharing their data--
Byers: --because it's a better user experience.
Sandberg: And those ads, I think, are a better experience. But here's what happens, and this is what really matters, is this is why the personalized ads are better. We're not violating people's information or data or giving it away, and this is causing job growth.
So we just put out a report when I was in Europe a month ago with Copenhagen Economics that said that, in the last year alone, we added 200 billion euros to the European economy and three million jobs. That's--
Sandberg: --people like Rebecca. That is small, tiny companies, largely not tech. It's your local plumber, baker, dog walker, who can buy ads. And that's what's happening. And we need to do a much better job explaining it. Because when you feel like, "Oh, I'm getting clothes for things I like on Instagram, but no one's violating my data," it's a great experience.
Sandberg: But when you don't understand that, it's scary.
Byers: But in terms of telling this story, and overcoming the deficit that has been built up over the last three or four years, 2.9 billion people or whatever it is, have all have a different Facebook experience, and we're trying to cater to them based off of the data that they provide to you.
I think the question is there are definitely good experiences. There is the dog walker who is able to grow her business in ways that would never have happened before the existence of Facebook. There are also tons of negative experiences with the sharing of, you've dealt with this for the last two years, with the sharing of, you know, bad content, harmful content, misinformation. And I guess the question is, first of all, are you optimizing Facebook so that there's more of the dog walker experience and less of the harmful content? And second of all, how do you explain to people, "I know we lost your trust. And then I know we lost it again, and I know we lost it again. But trust us. We are trying to create an experience that is better for you. Trust us with your data. We're gonna give you the ads and the content that you wanna see," and then sort of break through to the next phase of Facebook?
Sandberg: So we're definitely trying. And so one thing is that people are continuing to use us. Our growth has been very strong on all of our apps through this whole time. Now, that doesn't mean we don't have to do a lot better. We do. And we are working as hard as we can.
But it does mean that, at some fundamental level, people still trust the service, and people are still using the service. I think we've always done both. We've always done some growing the company and some protecting the community. You know, and I think the criticism of us is, you know, we would to anything to grow. That was never the case.
We always took a lot of strong action that was in protecting. But I think it's also really fair to say that we did not put enough resources on protecting the community. And that has really shifted. The other thing is that we're learning. Because for every technology we've ever put out there, including Facebook, there are people who use it well, people like Rebecca of our dog hotel, people are raising money for nonprofits, and there are people who are trying to do really bad things. And as those bad things have happened, we have to learn.
So go back to Russian interference in the election. In 2016, we didn't know what this was. We took down none of it. In 2017, we took down one, what we call coordinated, inauthentic CIB, Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior. We took down one network. In the last year, we've taken down 50. That's because we now know what these are, and we are searching for them and finding them.
It's also because everyone knows what this is. So we have a working relationship now with our government. You know, the FBI has a task force on this. Homeland Security is focused. This was something that, you know, we all missed. And now, we have to work together.
And I do think part of it were mistakes we made, not putting enough resources on protection. We always did some, but not enough. And that's shifted. But part of it is that these are threats that are not just on us, they're on everyone. When you use one tech platform, you use all of them. When you try to interfere in an election, you use everything. And so I think the tech community, I think the government, there is a much more heightened awareness of what these things are, and all of us working together to try to prevent them. And I think that's really important.
Byers: So you look at what happened in 2016, you try to identify the problem, you throw manpower, financial resources, all of this stuff, at it. And you're basically trying to solve the problem as best you can, of foreign meddling, et cetera. But then, you've got all of a sudden, a new scandal on your hands, as you guys seem to have every two or three months, which is now like political ads. And you've decided that you are not going to be the arbiter of what is true and false in a political ad, despite the fact that other tech companies, Twitter, Google, have had sort of different stances on this. You know, without going too deep into it, I mean what is the, if you've curbed misinformation coming from Russia, what is the justification for maintaining this information coming from, say, President Donald Trump?
Sandberg: So I do think this is a really important topic. And I do think one we take really seriously and we've thought about really deeply. And there's no perfect answer here. If you look at political ads and fact checking political ads, that's really not something anyone is capable of doing. And we don't think we can make ourselves the arbiter of the truth. And I think what's pretty clear is that political speech is about as scrutinized as speeches, right?
Sandberg: If you say something, you and I say something on this podcast, so if someone who is relatively less known says something, there's almost no scrutiny. You and I say something on this podcast, there'll be scrutiny of this. Presidential candidate says something in a debate, there's, I think it's fair to say, a lot more scrutiny, right?
Sandberg: It's hard to argue that.
Byers: Almost too much.
Sandberg: Well, it's hard to (CHUCKLE) argue that, what politicians are saying isn't scrutinized. In fact, the whole process of an election is one politician says something, one politician says something else, you say something's true, I say it's not true, I say something is true. That is the political process and the political debate. And we think that's a really important process, and not one we could ever be the arbiter of the truth on.
Byers: Do you feel like that you've been able to make that case and that you've convinced people? Or do you just feel like you can sort of do whatever you want because you're Facebook and people have to sort of move along?
Sandberg: No, look.
Byers: 'Cause there's still a lot of anger, in the industry I work in. And look, personally I think it's sort of strange that a company that so many people don't trust want that company to be the arbiter of what's true or false. But a lot of my colleagues feel like it's just crazy that you would let a blatant lie run in an advertisement on Facebook.
Sandberg: So I think what's really important in this is, if you actually look at parties, both sides, all of them have weighed in and asked us to allow political ads to continue.
Sandberg: And it's very important to know that that is strongly on the Republican side, strongly on the Democratic side. Where political ads are most important, and not everyone understands this, and again, that's on us, is for challengers. Political ads are most important for small races, for challengers, for someone who doesn't have an established base. And that's something we think is really important.
Byers: So let's take all this business stuff. There is a rational defense to be made of what Facebook does. And you might not agree with it, but it's at least something that's worth talking. I probably can do it on a podcast. I know we can't do it (CHUCKLE) on Twitter. Mark has talked about how, in recent months, about how it's more important to be understood than it is to be liked. Are you guys ready now to go forward and say to the world, "Look, we're done apologizing for what we do. Here is what we do. We want you to understand how this business works. We defend it. We're not apologizing for it."
Sandberg: We are definitely trying to make the case, and trying to explain. Now, we will make mistakes, and we will apologize for those mistakes. There's never been anything of this scale. Right? So in the time you and I are doing this podcast, someone has found a long, lost friend or relative on Facebook. Someone has raised some money for a cause they care about. And someone's done something that violates our policies for sure.
So we are gonna continue fighting those battles. And when we get it wrong or miss things of course we'll apologizes. But you're definitely onto where we are, which is that we're investing heavily in protecting the community. And we want people to understand some of the decisions we're making and the harder calls we're making.
So Mark, I think, has done a really good job of going out there and saying, "We are for free expression. We are for free expression. We are gonna take down hate. We are gonna take down terrorism. But we are going to allow a lot of free speech." And free speech is one of those things where everyone likes theirs, and not everyone likes everyone else's. And that means there are things on Facebook that I deeply disagree with. But we let that stand, and we let that conversation happen, and that gives people a voice.
Byers: So will you go out there publicly and defend the business model?
Sandberg: Yes. And it's actually one of the most important things I wanna do this year. I'm gonna give a big speech next month. And I'm working on an op-ed. We need to go out and explain the business model clearly. Because I think our business model is helping entrepreneurs all over the world. It know we're one of the largest creators of jobs anywhere in the world. And we have reports and economist studies to prove that. And I think we're (MUSIC) not violating people's privacy. And that is a case I wanna make, much more proactively so.
Byers: More with Sheryl Sandberg in a moment.
Byers: In terms of how you guys think about where you're at, do you believe that you are at the beginning of sort of turning the page on what the last three years have been? Do you think that's a possibility? And by the way, do you think that's a possibility, too, I would say personally for yourself?
Like I mentioned earlier, there was a time when you were like, you know, the Lean In, the most powerful woman in business, your name was floated as a presidential candidate in The Wall Street Journal op-ed and Kara Swisher asked you about it, are you guys starting to climb back to a new chapter out of the sort of-- have you hit rock bottom, and are you on your way out, I guess is what I'm asking.
Sandberg: You know, one of the things that's great about being run by Mark and working for Mark is we have a really long run view. We just have a very long run view. I mean we don't really think in terms of a year or two, but we really think in decades. I've been at Facebook, I'll be here 12 years. I'd like to stay for a very long time.
Byers: So you're not going anywhere.
Sandberg: I'm not going anywhere. But we think long term. So this is new technology, brand new. This has come with, I think, a tremendous amount of good, and also some very serious and very real harm. I think, like a lot of new technology, it's funny, when I give speeches, I'll sometimes say to someone on my team, like, "Get me a quote. Get me a quote." And they know exactly what I mean.
And they come back with the following quote. The quote is something like, "This new thing has changed everything. Now people aren't speaking face to face anymore, but now anyone can say anything to anyone, and it doesn't even have to be true. We've never been more polarized or more fractionalized. Civil society is ripping apart at the seams."
That quote has been written about. And I've used the printing press, the radio, the television, the internet, and then us. And that quote sounds like it's on us. So look, I think we've come through a period where the internet and social media could do no harm was never true. Then we could do no good. I think we're kind of in that now. Also not true.
Where I think we need to get, and we are gonna work so hard to get, is a place where people recognize the good and people see that we need to do all we can to prevent the harm, knowing you're never gonna get rid of all of it. I think that is the status quo we can hope for and we have to work towards. And we have to earn back trust to get there in a world where it's never gonna be perfect.
The other thing that happens in these phases is really what happens with regulation. And this again, you could go through all of those same industries, from the printing press, to the radio, the television, you know, it's a little bit no one quite has the right rules or a lot of the rules that are on the books don't apply.
I think we're in a phase now where the rules for the internet are gonna get rewritten. And we want to be a very productive part of that. You know, we supported GDPR. We took those GDPR flows and we made them available all around the world. I do think there should be privacy legislation in the United States on a national level. I think that would help us. We have a content board.
And so this is messy. I don't think if there's a top and a bottom. But there has to get to a status quo where we have the right rules of the road. What we would love more than anything is someone else to decide and regulate what candidates can do and not do.
It has always been the case that people thought the government should decide that, not a private company. We believe that, and we think if we started making those decisions, people would decide that that was too much power. And so I think the next phase will hopefully be where the right rules are written on a global level and at a state level, you know, at a country level, and we will be able to see, in its fullness, the good that happens and work together to prevent the harms.
Byers: But there are certain regulations that you guys would like, and then there are certain actions that Washington might take, which you would very much not like. Is there a contingency plan if Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren were to win the nomination and, all of a sudden, the pressure's on to sort of break up Facebook? Or do you feel like you have so many lobbyists and layers in place, and that you've taken the steps to consolidate the company into the family of apps, that you guys aren't gonna be broken up?
Sandberg: We've definitely not taken steps to consolidate into a family of apps because of breakup. Those plans were public announced. We were already on a path before anyone really started talking about breaking us up. So I don't wanna make the mistake of one is for the other. That's not why that happened or why we were doing it.
Look, our job is to run the company as best we can. We come to work every single day knowing what a huge responsibility we have, knowing that we have an opportunity to create a lot of good, but also prevent harm. We have to work hard to prevent the things that went wrong. But we also have to work hard to let the good happen.
I had a meeting that meant a lot to me last week with the CEO of St. Jude's. Largest hospital for children in the country. They're very proud of their track record at providing care for anyone, regardless of your financial situation. And what the CEO said to me is that, over the last 14 years, fundraising has gone down. And on Facebook, they are able to do grassroots--
Sandberg: --fundraising in a new way. And they're saving kids' lives. We have to find the space to let people see that again. And I do think we've lost that. And that's on us. Because we need to make sure we're doing enough to prevent the harm that people can see the good.
Byers: So whenever you guys do get out of the storm, the issue, it doesn't seem to be, given your growth to 2.9 billion users, does not seem to me that the company won't be doing well and won't have continued to grow and grow revenue and what not. It seems to me that the biggest potential harm might be something that Bill Gates and Brad Smith have talked about happening, and Microsoft, which is you got so bogged down in your fights with the media, with Washington, with your critics here in the Valley, that you took your eye off the ball and that you maybe missed he next great innovation. I think that's what the guys at Microsoft would say about missing mobile. Do you worry? Is that a serious concern for you and Mark?
Sandberg: I mean the history of companies in any industry, but actually particularly tech companies, is that they miss things. And you don't have to break them up. They fail on their own. I mean no one broke up Yahoo.
Byers: Right. (CHUCKLE)
Sandberg: Right? I mean no one broke up AOL, right?
Byers: That's a deep cut. Yeah. (LAUGHTER)
Sandberg: No. But no one broke up these companies.
Sandberg: Like, what happens is the next thing. So in the world of tech, you know, we compete for every minute of your attention every day. You pick up your phone. I mean my kids pick up the phone and they're on TikTok.
Sandberg: That is--
Byers: Do you worry about TikTok?
Byers: And, you know, they're--
Sandberg: Sure, and they're--
Byers: --not just the business, but they're coming after your talent. I mean--
Sandberg: I mean they're huge. They're growing really quickly. They've gotten to bigger numbers faster than we ever did. They're a Chinese company. If people are concerned about data, I think there's a lot to be concerned about there. But of course we worry about it.
We have to worry about all the innovation. And you are right that, through all of this, we have to keep our eye on the ball and make sure we continue to innovate. And then again, I think Mark's leadership and, you know, the control he has of this company, really help us. We can invest in VR, invest in AR, invest in AI.
The only hope we have of keeping bad content off Facebook is machines. Artificial intelligence machine learning. And if you look at the reports we're putting out, you can see we're not perfect, but we are getting way better at it because we are investing so heavily.
So yeah, we have to keep fighting to make sure we provide great products. And we also have to remember, like, why we do this. Like, I know why I do this. I know why I'm still in this job and why I'm honored to still be in this job. And why, despite all the difficulty, I think I have one of the most, you know, interesting and hopefully important opportunities to get things right.
There's a woman whose story I was just reading about that I thought was so amazing. She's a mom. She's in a moms group on Facebook. And her son came down with cancer and needed a liver transplant, and no one matched. So she went to this moms group. 100 moms that she had never met got tested to be a liver donor for her child, her infant.
One of them donated. And then all these moms from all over, like, drove and flew to be at the hospital with her and her son as they had this operation. Half the moms stayed with the mom who was donating, half the moms stayed with her. And it worked. And her son, you know, just celebrated his first birthday. That's why I come to work every day.
Sandberg: And that's, you know, I think it's an honor.
Byers: And you're in it for the long haul?
Sandberg: I'm in it.
Byers: Okay. So last question, then I'm gonna let you go. The 2020 Democratic field, where are you at? Do you have a candidate?
Sandberg: So today I'm with Tom Friedman. Did you read his piece this morning?
Byers: No. What did he say?
Sandberg: He wrote a great piece this morning. And what he wrote was: Democrats unite. He actually placed all of them into cabinet positions.
Byers: Wasn't Tom Friedman the same one who said, "Just get behind Bloomberg?"
Sandberg: I think he also said that. (CHUCKLE) But this morning, what he wrote to the Democrats was, "Stop fighting, let's unite." And he literally, I think in this piece, placed each of them in a cabinet position. What if this team of rivals all came together? I definitely think, like, each party has to do, that we're gonna have to find some unification if we're ever gonna win.
Byers: But there are candidates you guys-- I mean Mark referred to Elizabeth Warren as "an existential threat to the company."
Sandberg: I believe he referred to breaking up the company that way.
Sandberg: Not her personally. I don't think that's fair.
Byers: But are you, at some point in this process, going to-- would you throw your weight behind the candidate, or is that even an option for you now, just given the sort of political scandals at Facebook? Everyone wants to wash their hands clean of you and Mark?
Byers: And no one wants your support.
Sandberg: No, I mean I'm a Democrat.
Sandberg: And I plan to support whatever Democratic candidate (MUSIC) there is. But, you know, I'm staying out of the primary.
Byers: Okay. All right. Sheryl, thank you for doing this.
Sandberg: Thank you for being here, Dylan.
Byers: Seriously, thank you.
Byers: My guest today was Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. Byers Market is a production of NBC News and is produced by Jonaki Mehta with help from Tanner Robbins of Neon Hum Media. The show is engineered by Scott Somerville. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of podcasts for NBC News. And I'm Dylan Byers. Thanks for listening.