So much for that touching goodbye post to Sheryl Sandberg that Mark Zuckerberg posted just 9 days ago, when after a 14-year run at Facebook — now Meta Platforms — Sandberg said she was resigning from her post as COO. At the time, Zuckerberg called Sandberg’s planned departure the “the end of an era” and spoke glowingly of her as an “amazing person, leader, partner, and friend.”
Today, the Wall Street Journal reports — for the second time since Sandberg resigned — that Facebook has been investigating Sandberg since at least the fall for the possible misuse of corporate resources.
Under review: whether she had Facebook employees engaged in work that supported her Lean In foundation, whose mission it is to foster women’s leadership and workplace inclusion; whether she pulled Facebook staffers into the writing and promotion of her second book, “Option B,” which focused on overcoming the sudden death of her husband in 2015; and finally whether she diverted the time and attention of Facebook employees to her upcoming wedding this summer.
We don’t know who is leaking details of this investigation to the WSJ, but if the “people familiar with the matter” are trying to destroy her reputation, they’re doing a comically lousy job. (We reached out to Facebook for more information earlier and have yet to hear back from the company.)
For one thing, no one thinks Sheryl Sandberg is an angel. If they ever did, they reassessed many years ago, across numerous scandals, from Facebook’s obvious ambivalence about data privacy, to her handling of Facebook’s public relations after revelations of Russian interference on the platform in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (While Zuckerberg launched an apology tour at first, she launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics.)
It plainly takes a certain kind of person to run a rule-bending company like Facebook, and you can’t help it grow into one of the most powerful companies in world history without getting even dirtier. Still, a newer story leaked to the Journal in April managed to further raise questions about Sandberg. According to the report, Sandberg, who earlier dated Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, twice pressed a U.K. tabloid to shelve a potential article about him, relying on a team that included both Facebook and Activision employees, as well as paid outside advisers.
A lot of people found the possibility that Sandberg would potentially use her muscle in this way disturbing. The newest articles about Sandberg are different, though. In fact, we hope these leaks about investigations into Sandberg’s potential misuse of assets are coming from Sandberg and her associates. Talk about brilliant machinations, if so.
Think about it. In Sandberg, we have a commanding female COO, who has long been credited for much of Facebook’s growth, being investigated for relying on staff to (1) nurture an organization for women, (2) write a book primarily for women about overcoming grief and (3) being a human who is planning a joyous wedding after suffering unimaginable loss.
If Facebook really wants to take issue with Sandberg planning her wedding on company time, so be it. But clearly both Lean In and Sandberg’s books — proceeds of which were reportedly given to Lean In — were very good for Facebook’s brand when it most needed some softening.
Alas, we don’t actually think Sandberg is seeking out coverage in the Journal. The more likely scenario is that there are people inside Facebook with an axe to grind. If so, their efforts to take down Sandberg may backfire in a big way unless these internal investigations — reportedly the outgrowth of hiring its first chief compliance officer last year — lead to a much bigger reveal.
As for now, Sandberg mostly looks to be getting the world’s worst send-off from a company to which she remained dedicated longer than nearly any other executive aside from Zuckerberg himself. In fact, the Journal notes that it’s well known already that both Sandberg and Zuckerberg use corporate resources for some personal matters. Facebook even makes “extensive disclosures” about these things in its regulatory filings, notes the outlet.
In the meantime, these slow leaks make Facebook appear petty and vindictive — even borderline absurd. As reports the WSJ: “Some within Meta close to the investigation worry about potential Securities and Exchange Commission violations if Ms. Sandberg used professional resources for personal matters without adequate disclosures, although it isn’t yet clear what such violations might be, people familiar with the matter said.”