Last year was not great for Facebook’s embattled chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg—particularly after it was revealed that she personally requested information on vocal Facebook critic George Soros after he publicly deemed the company as a “menace.” But Soros conspiracy ordeal notwithstanding, the company she’s partly responsible for running experienced the most disastrous year in its history.
This is evidently not lost on Sandberg, who while speaking at the DLD conference in Germany this weekend said that Facebook has “a lot of hard work” and was “far from done” fixing the myriad problems that arise almost exclusively because the platform exists. Sandberg announced five key goals of the company moving forward, which per CNBC included increased transparency; reinstating user trust in the company to protect their data; investing in safety and security; safeguarding against election meddling; and stopping the spread of disinformation.
“At Facebook, these last few years have been really difficult. We know we need to do better at anticipating the risks of connecting so many people,” Sandberg said. “I can tell you that I and everyone at Facebook understands and accepts the deep responsibility that we have. We have acknowledged our mistakes. We are listening, and we are learning, and we are making progress.”
But as Sandberg continued speaking about the importance of safety and privacy, something about her message didn’t quite stick. She acknowledged that user trust is “fundamental to the work we do” even as it continues to nosedive. Sandberg said that it would be actions, not words, that win back the confidence of its users. (And Facebook is definitely hearing—if not necessarily listening to—criticism; we know from Mark Zuckerberg’s reported belief that Facebook is at “war” that at least he’s reading the coverage of his company.)
But Facebook has yet to show that it can adequately manage the vast power it wields (like avoiding becoming a tool used for inciting genocide). In a year-end post shared to Facebook, Zuckerberg himself wrote that for issues like “election interference or harmful speech, the problems can never fully be solved.” Indeed, the company has time and time again responded to messes created by its own egregious and even dangerous oversights by downplaying potential harm and insisting that it is A Good Product.
Certainly beginning with reports on its use as a tool to undermine democracy and culminating with a seemingly endless string of privacy and user data scandals, 2018 was a no good, very bad year for Facebook. But if the company really wants to fix itself in 2019, it’ll take far more than retrospective navel-gazing to get it done.