On June 1, Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced she would be stepping down in the fall after a 14-year tenure, though she will continue to serve on the company’s board of directors. She leaves the company in worse shape than when she started, having created a business model that prioritizes revenue over its users' safety and ignored significant issues plaguing its platforms.
Sandberg is credited with developing Facebook’s advertising system, earning the company over $100 billion in annual revenue in 2021 after joining when the company had almost no ad revenue. The model she created leverages Facebook’s vast trove of data to create personalized ads targeting each user. But, as the company developed its ad model, it ultimately prioritized revenue and growth over the safety of its users. Meanwhile, Sandberg downplayed the company’s culpability as it caused real-world harm, lying about its role in enabling the January 6 insurrection and making empty promises to reduce election misinformation.
Facebook’s ad policies, which have been updated in the last few years to address some concerns, have notable gaps, and Media Matters has repeatedly found that the platform has difficulty enforcing these policies. Most recently, Media Matters uncovered at least 50 Facebook ads run by current or former Republican candidates, party affiliates, and allied conservative groups that pushed variations of the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory in the year before an alleged white supremacist killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York.
Media Matters recently compiled all of our reporting about Meta from May 1, 2021, through April 30, 2022, and found over 13,500 violations of its policies on Facebook and Instagram, with much of the violative content still active or not appropriately labeled. Of these violations, over 3,700 of them were ads, including:
- Over 3,600 Facebook and/or Instagram ads from former President Donald Trump’s sole political vehicle — the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee — that seemingly evade his suspension from the platform, breaking Meta’s rule against content that is “in his voice.”
- Roughly 75 ads with harmful health misinformation, voter misinformation, or other misinformation “debunked by third-party fact checkers,” all of which are prohibited by the platform.
With Sandberg’s departure, the altered leadership at Meta has an opportunity to address some of the key issues plaguing its platforms — hate speech, racism, misinformation, inconsistent policy enforcement, incitement of violence, content moderation in other languages, etc. But if the company’s past inaction, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s focus on developing new products, is any indication, Meta won’t address these issues, and it will continue to build products without considering the potentially dangerous consequences.