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My Befuddling Dinner With Facebook Empress Sheryl Sandberg

To recap: Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook as chief working officer in 2008, promising to make the favored but weird social community worthwhile. She went exhausting into promoting, advertising, and data-mining—and, by 2010, Facebook was going nice weapons. It’s been properly within the black ever since.

During these explosive years, the corporate enabled Russian troll farms. It discovered finish runs round privateness laws, enabling firms from generally aboveboard Netflix to shady right-wing Cambridge Analytica to reap and exploit knowledge from unwitting customers and their much more unwitting pals. Facebook was additionally infiltrated by a whole lot of thousands and thousands of imposters, lots of them bots and trolls. The company deleted some 1.three billion faux accounts earlier this yr. But Facebook continues to be riddled with fraud.

Virginia Heffernan (@page88) is an Ideas contributor at WIRED. She is the creator of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, a cohost of Trumpcast, an op-ed columnist on the Los Angeles Times, and a frequent contributor to Politico.

Confronted with its misdeeds and worse, Facebook grew defensive. Sandberg herself turned on Facebook’s critics. In a current New York Times exposé, she comes off as the sector marshal in Facebook’s aggressive marketing campaign to smash critics and forestall regulation. What’s extra, in accordance with paperwork found by Buzzfeed News this month, Sandberg personally requested particulars concerning the funding historical past of George Soros, the philanthropist who has publicly criticized Facebook. This seemed for all of the world like opposition analysis.

But that’s simply context. Really, I need to inform one other story. In 2013, I attended a Lean In dinner at a classy, cream-colored restaurant in Manhattan with about 20 different feminists. The host was—oh gosh, what was her identify—she was so fairly and funky. Oh sure: Sheryl Sandberg. Then the current creator of the best-selling e-book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and the founding father of Lean In teams. Also, the Facebook COO.

In particular person Sandberg is dazzling. She seems to be just like the actor Carla Gugino—old style, with rosy lineless pores and skin and 91 % cacao-content hair. Maybe Gugino will play Sandberg within the film about Facebook’s perfidy and demise. But I’m getting forward of myself.

I don’t assume I’ve ever met a greater host. At a desk of decidedly anti-corporate ladies, Sandberg engaged, and appeared to win over, everybody. What did we consider office conferences, marriage, youngsters, being heard, management, present items of laws, the challenges dealing with ladies and feminism? Trump, #MeToo, and the corruption of social media hadn’t surfaced but, so the “feminist” subjects had been these fancy morsels from Obama days: wellness, motherhood, and naturally sleep. A starter got here, and wine, then a chic foremost dish, and eventually dessert and low. We fell over ourselves to agree with Sheryl, as we referred to as her, and giggle at her jokes; she did the identical for us, and he or she appeared simply merry.

Two issues she mentioned stood out. The first was that, in balancing work and life, one of the best asset could be a trusty husband like hers, Dave Goldberg. It was clear that evening that she actually liked her husband and located him a terrific assist to her on each entrance; it was shifting, particularly after I give it some thought now, to listen to her reward Goldberg, who died two years later. For petty causes, although, on the time I bridled. A yr earlier, my very own husband had fallen in love with a good friend of mine and moved in together with her. At the Lean In dinner, I panicked at being advised that the important thing to happiness was discovering a superb man, as I had evidently failed to try this. I sulked via a lot of the scallop course.

The second factor Sandberg mentioned was that she didn’t count on her workers to return into the workplace in the event that they didn’t need to. She cited one engineer who may get all of the week’s work accomplished in a single day. If he met his marks, she mentioned, he was free to hike, play together with his youngsters, meditate, take an infinitely rewarding nap. I’m undecided if she listed these actual actions, however the concept was that wellness should come first—even over productiveness.

That month, Facebook inventory was up 88 % for the yr. The firm’s IPO, a yr earlier, was mentioned to have been a bust on the time; that proved incorrect. From Sheryl I divined that when your inventory is hovering, you may let workers work in the future every week, and maintain forth on health initiatives, nap rooms, and why a superb husband is life’s centerpiece.

Evidently you may as well run operations at an organization with a hovering inventory worth remotely, whilst you promote a work-life handbook telling others methods to stability their firm jobs and lives of wellness. When you’re being profitable hand over fist, and your organization appears to be on the fitting aspect of historical past, it’s pure to assume you’re a really ethical and entire particular person, who has made some beautiful selections, and who has rather a lot to show different ladies about work and households. But what about … when the corporate founders?

Of course, I didn’t take into consideration that on the time. It was unattainable to think about that Facebook would ever be at risk, ethically or financially. But I did depart the restaurant perplexed: How was the COO of one of the highly effective firms on the planet each delivering such an brisk efficiency of a working lady with a household whereas additionally really working, as I perceive working, and elevating youngsters, which to me means, oh say, filling out four-page Padawan coaching types for my child at a Star Wars-themed birthday celebration in a windowless synagogue basement whereas paying a neighbor to observe the opposite child?

What I made a decision is that what middle-class ladies imply by “work” (cubicles) and “life” (childcare) just isn’t what Sheryl Sandberg means by these phrases. The axes of existence for her is perhaps nearer to what I’d name “glamour” (scallops) and “deluxe domesticity” (her youngsters have a home with a personal waterfall). So this evening of e-book promotion, although there have been no desks in sight, one way or the other counted towards the “work” within the “work-life balance” she was aiming to embody in her lifetime of glamour and luxe.

In different phrases, I idolized Sheryl Sandberg the lady—good for any sister who finds a method to amass $1.6 billion for being at events and steering away from some boring ops job—however from the primary minute I noticed her in particular person in 2013 I used to be very, very involved about Facebook. It dawned on me that Sandberg was human—a small, useless, brilliant, self-absorbed, convivial everywoman with a expertise for cash and fame—and that nobody human, even Sandberg, may self-discipline the galactic, epochal non secular wildfire that Mark Zuckerberg had inflicted on the Internet.

The Facebook of 2013 is now a distant reminiscence. As 2018 involves an in depth—a “low dishonest” time, as Auden mentioned of the 1930s—that high-flying, hardly working, nap-besotted, righteous Facebook has given method to one identified for secrecy and collaboration with disinformation campaigns and computational propaganda. The function of these campaigns at Facebook, within the phrases of the Oxford Internet Institute at Balliol College, is to “hack people.”

Hacking us. Not connecting us. I deactivated my Facebook account a yr and a half in the past, and on the similar time offered the few shares of Facebook inventory I’d purchased to be a superb sport on the day of the IPO. Sandberg’s credible ethical superiority; her pose as a billionaire fundamental; and her obsession with eucalyptus-scented way of life questions had made me surprise, way back to 2013, concerning the management at Facebook.

We can’t remind ourselves sufficient: With 2.27 billion residents, Facebook is by far the largest empire the world has ever identified. As with the British one—however extra so—it’s inconceivable that the solar may ever set on it. Its customers spend 950 million hours on it day-after-day. The social, financial, and political lives of two.27 billion customers relies upon at the very least partly on Facebook’s insurance policies, practices, and design. The ethical duty of its leaders is crushing.

No surprise Sheryl Sandberg has failed so spectacularly as an empress. Everyone fails in that function. As only one human, she has been unable to imagine and even approximate imperial duty that might have eluded Genghis Khan. She’s been reticent and even defensive when confronted concerning the extent of Facebook’s complicity within the rise of authoritarianism internationally. She’s delayed in cleansing up the mess, stepping down, or proposing critical reforms.

“You know, when I was a girl, the idea that the British Empire could ever end was absolutely inconceivable,” Doris Lessing as soon as mentioned. “And it just disappeared, like all the other empires.”

Empires vanish. The memes that saved them glued collectively for a short while—from “Dieu et mon droit” to “Bring the world closer together”—are uncovered as fictions of state. And the leaders are, shock, mortals with Napoleon complexes.

Sheryl Sandberg’s maxim for working her world-historical empire—yet another harmful to psyches, tribes, and governments than even France’s or England’s ever was—has been the enigmatic “Lean In.”

“Lean In—that shit doesn’t work,” mentioned Michelle Obama last Sunday. She then apologized for the obscenity. But not for the reality.


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