An Unfriendly Facebook Legacy

Sandberg leaves behind a legacy of amazing business growth, data gathering power, and surveillanceCommentary Facebook may have begun as just a social networking platform, but over the course of Sheryl Sandberg’s tenure, it has become much more than that. As chief operating officer of Meta, Facebook’s parent company since 2008, Sandberg has played a huge role in the social network leader’s growth and the dominant global position that it enjoys today. The company grew from just 500 to almost 78,000 employees, and from 100 million users to three billion by the end of 2021. The former Google executive who helped optimize ad revenues for the world’s most powerful search engine had a similar impact on Facebook’s fortunes. In 2007, the year before Sandberg joined the company, its total revenue was just over $150 million. In 2022, the social network giant’s revenues were around $117 billion. The Making of a Digital Business Juggernaut Sandberg not only maximized Facebook’s potential in social networking, but also helped turn founder Mark Zuckerberg’s small social media platform into an unrivaled business juggernaut, connecting billions of buyers and sellers around the world. As a result, millions of online businesses saw their revenues skyrocket, and millions more were formed as trillions of dollars flowed into businesses worldwide via Facebook. A big part of that success came from Facebook’s strategy of eliminating competition in the social networking, data gathering, and media market. Devouring Competitors Under Sandberg’s direction, Facebook acquired some of the top social media and networking companies in the world in order to expand its offerings and absorb potential market rivals. In 2011, for example, Facebook bought Beluga, a messaging service that was still in its startup phase. Beluga’s messaging technology was cutting edge, but instead of growing organically, it would become the basis for Facebook’s very successful Messenger service. It’s difficult to imagine Facebook without it. In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram, the highly popular photo and video sharing app, for $1 billion. By June 2018, the platform would be used by 1 billion active users a month. In 2021, over 2 billion monthly users would drive Instagram’s revenues to more than $47 billion, almost half of Facebook’s revenue for the year. In 2014, Facebook paid $19 billion for the popular mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which was making only a few million dollars per year at the time. By March 2022, WhatsApp had become Facebook’s (now Meta Platform, Inc.) top-performing company, surpassing even Instagram, with 2 billion users in 180 countries. Strategic acquisitions are undeniably a hallmark of Sandberg’s leadership. But they also resulted in an antitrust action, with legal claims against the mega firm’s de facto monopolistic position and behavior. The charges aren’t without merit. The Federal Trade Commission is now suing Meta over its anticompetitive behavior. But the impact of Sandberg’s tenure at Facebook goes well beyond the massive expansion of users, revenue, global ecommerce, and market monopolies. From Network to Driving Political Agendas Sandberg dramatically expanded Facebook’s role as an unrivaled influencer in both the public and political realms. As a former top aide of U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Sandberg brought a Washington insider’s political agenda to Facebook. That agenda included promoting radical feminism, social justice activism, and political opinion shaping. Of course, Facebook’s political influence evolved over time. In the beginning, it was a digital place to enable communication among and between people from all over, locally to most nations. But it also provided opportunities for the manipulation of data and content by sophisticated users such as political parties and other corporations, including Facebook itself. For example, as an aide in the Clinton administration and a major donor to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Facebook enjoyed a cozy relationship with left-wing Washington elites. Facebook and other social media played a significant role in Obama’s presidential election victories in 2008 and 2012. Protesters hold signs denouncing Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Humanity Against Censorship rally in front of Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on May 19, 2022. (The Epoch Times) But there are also contrary accusations. Facebook and Sandberg herself were subject to accusation that the company was slow to react to purported Russian interference in the 2016 election. What’s more, recent testimony has come out from whistleblowers that fake Facebook accounts have been used to sway political elections around the world. It has been alleged that as long as the revenue kept coming, nothing would be done to prevent the abuse. Spying on Users Then there are the privacy concerns over the use, misuse, and selling of users’ personal data, including personal habits and

An Unfriendly Facebook Legacy

Sandberg leaves behind a legacy of amazing business growth, data gathering power, and surveillance

Commentary

Facebook may have begun as just a social networking platform, but over the course of Sheryl Sandberg’s tenure, it has become much more than that.

As chief operating officer of Meta, Facebook’s parent company since 2008, Sandberg has played a huge role in the social network leader’s growth and the dominant global position that it enjoys today. The company grew from just 500 to almost 78,000 employees, and from 100 million users to three billion by the end of 2021.

The former Google executive who helped optimize ad revenues for the world’s most powerful search engine had a similar impact on Facebook’s fortunes. In 2007, the year before Sandberg joined the company, its total revenue was just over $150 million. In 2022, the social network giant’s revenues were around $117 billion.

The Making of a Digital Business Juggernaut

Sandberg not only maximized Facebook’s potential in social networking, but also helped turn founder Mark Zuckerberg’s small social media platform into an unrivaled business juggernaut, connecting billions of buyers and sellers around the world. As a result, millions of online businesses saw their revenues skyrocket, and millions more were formed as trillions of dollars flowed into businesses worldwide via Facebook.

A big part of that success came from Facebook’s strategy of eliminating competition in the social networking, data gathering, and media market.

Devouring Competitors

Under Sandberg’s direction, Facebook acquired some of the top social media and networking companies in the world in order to expand its offerings and absorb potential market rivals.

In 2011, for example, Facebook bought Beluga, a messaging service that was still in its startup phase. Beluga’s messaging technology was cutting edge, but instead of growing organically, it would become the basis for Facebook’s very successful Messenger service. It’s difficult to imagine Facebook without it.

In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram, the highly popular photo and video sharing app, for $1 billion. By June 2018, the platform would be used by 1 billion active users a month. In 2021, over 2 billion monthly users would drive Instagram’s revenues to more than $47 billion, almost half of Facebook’s revenue for the year.

In 2014, Facebook paid $19 billion for the popular mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which was making only a few million dollars per year at the time. By March 2022, WhatsApp had become Facebook’s (now Meta Platform, Inc.) top-performing company, surpassing even Instagram, with 2 billion users in 180 countries.

Strategic acquisitions are undeniably a hallmark of Sandberg’s leadership. But they also resulted in an antitrust action, with legal claims against the mega firm’s de facto monopolistic position and behavior.

The charges aren’t without merit. The Federal Trade Commission is now suing Meta over its anticompetitive behavior.

But the impact of Sandberg’s tenure at Facebook goes well beyond the massive expansion of users, revenue, global ecommerce, and market monopolies.

From Network to Driving Political Agendas

Sandberg dramatically expanded Facebook’s role as an unrivaled influencer in both the public and political realms. As a former top aide of U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Sandberg brought a Washington insider’s political agenda to Facebook. That agenda included promoting radical feminism, social justice activism, and political opinion shaping.

Of course, Facebook’s political influence evolved over time. In the beginning, it was a digital place to enable communication among and between people from all over, locally to most nations. But it also provided opportunities for the manipulation of data and content by sophisticated users such as political parties and other corporations, including Facebook itself.

For example, as an aide in the Clinton administration and a major donor to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Facebook enjoyed a cozy relationship with left-wing Washington elites. Facebook and other social media played a significant role in Obama’s presidential election victories in 2008 and 2012.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters hold signs denouncing Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Humanity Against Censorship rally in front of Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on May 19, 2022. (The Epoch Times)

But there are also contrary accusations. Facebook and Sandberg herself were subject to accusation that the company was slow to react to purported Russian interference in the 2016 election. What’s more, recent testimony has come out from whistleblowers that fake Facebook accounts have been used to sway political elections around the world. It has been alleged that as long as the revenue kept coming, nothing would be done to prevent the abuse.

Spying on Users

Then there are the privacy concerns over the use, misuse, and selling of users’ personal data, including personal habits and political preferences. The scale of data abuse is impossible to overstate. In one instance alone in the 2016 election cycle, the data from 87 million Facebook profiles was harvested and sold to a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, without users’ consent.

Facebook under Sandberg has also become one of the most powerful surveillance and propaganda tools ever unleashed against its unsuspecting 3 billion-plus users worldwide. Some may even say Facebook has functioned as a totalitarian surveillance tool disguised as a social media platform.

As early as 2012, it was virtually spying on users to an unprecedented degree. It kept a close watch on every user with hundreds of “trackers” that recorded a user’s internet activity. Even now, if you type something but then delete it before posting it, Facebook knows what you wrote. Furthermore, it tracks your activity on millions of websites.

In Sandberg’s era, Facebook has gone from an online network that facilitated communication to a global data gathering machine with a level of power and influence that has never been seen before. It tolerates and even promotes the expression for some points of view and levies harsh censorship for others. It supports certain political agendas while blocking discussions on the medical efficacy of untested vaccines and their politicized mandates.

It is no longer neutral or even truly regulated. It is, with the advent of the Metaverse, its own entity, largely operating under its own rules.

Apparently, those rules include unlimited growth, monstrous power, and denying privacy to all.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.