Facebook’s chief enabler is leaving and turning back to feminism

Sheryl Sandberg, the longtime chief operating officer for Facebook (now known as Meta), announced Wednesday that she plans to leave the company this fall. And her next venture could be even scarier for the rest of us than her current one. 

Sandberg, a former Google executive, gained cultural currency after releasing a 2011 book titled “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” her take on how women can gain power in the workplace. The book became a New York Times bestseller, although many women have since criticized its premise — that women should be more aggressive if they want to thrive — as overly privileged and ignorant of the way race and class work in American culture. 

Nonetheless, Sandberg told Fortune this week that she plans to focus her attention on “women’s advocacy” and philanthropy.

“It’s just not a job that leaves room for a lot of other stuff in your life,” she said of her current role. “This is a really important moment for women.”

But Sandberg would be well-suited looking in the mirror and evaluating her own shortcomings as a women’s advocate before returning to her trite “girl boss” schtick. 

She spent 14 years at the side of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, including recent years when Facebook has been dogged by reports that top officials — Sandberg among them — ignored, dismissed and downplayed harmful content on the site. 

After the deadly Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol last year, for instance, she downplayed extremists’ use of Facebook to organize ahead of the event. 

“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” she told Reuters.

That was demonstrably false, but Sandberg toed the company line nonetheless. 

When a Facebook whistleblower came forward last year with allegations that top officials ignored the site’s impact on teens — particularly, young girls’ self-esteem — The New York Times reported Sandberg and Zuckerberg tried to stay out of the public eye to avoid accountability. 

And the obfuscation doesn’t end there. 

A 2018 Times article detailed Facebook officials’ strategy to “delay, deny and deflect” blame for scandals, including the Russian government’s use of Facebook to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The article revealed Sandberg’s fervent effort to downplay Facebook’s role in that Russian disinformation campaign, along with the company’s hiring, under her leadership, of a right-wing consulting firm to aggressively target Facebook’s critics, including at least one civil rights group

These seem more like the actions of a power-hungry megalomaniac than a feminist concerned about women’s well-being. 

And look, I don’t mean to cherry-pick here. Sandberg has had an arguably illustrious career she seems quite proud of. But the facts are that she’s fallen short as an advocate to women throughout her time at Facebook.

As Anna North wrote for Vox in 2018, “’Lean In’ was meant as more than a career advice book — Sandberg argued that by leaning in, women could make widespread social change.”

But Sandberg demonstrated the opposite. Her brand of feminism was so singularly concerned with shoring up her own power as a white woman in a male-dominated industry that she ignored the women and girls who had to suffer for her to keep it.