Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, often has been called the company’s “adult in the room.” A former Clinton administration chief of staff, Sandberg ran both sales and philanthropic divisions at Google before joining Facebook. Her 2013 book Lean In made her a feminist business icon, of a certain stripe.
And so it was particularly devastating when a New York Times report earlier this month portrayed her as a bumbler, sinking the company further into the murk. Facing deepening controversy over Russian meddling, sloppy data hygiene, and other ills on its platform, the Facebook of Sandberg’s operational leadership entrenched its position, doing Beltway-style opposition research to discredit its critics rather than to address and solve its problems.
Among those critics was the billionaire investor George Soros, who had called Facebook a “menace to society” at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January. Facebook directed consultants to portray Soros as part of an anti-Facebook conspiracy, and some of that effort’s output veered into anti-Semitism.
Originally, Sandberg denied that some of those efforts—such as hiring Definers Public Affairs, a communications firm that reportedly ran the Soros efforts—were conducted at her direction or even with her knowledge. But apparently, Sandberg was more involved. She reportedly requested “an examination into why Mr. Soros had criticized the tech companies and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks.” Specifically, Sandberg had emailed Facebook colleagues asking if Soros had sold Facebook’s stock short, a way of betting against the company’s stock price.