Learning from our mistakes prepared us to deal with the coronavirus


Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook speaks onstage during ‘Putting a Best Facebook Forward’ at Vanity Fair’s 6th Annual New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 22, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.

Matt Winkelmeyer | Getty Images

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday said the company’s lessons learned from its numerous mistakes over the past couple of years has prepared it to deal with the crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Some of the troubles we had and some of the mistakes we made over the past years, we worked so hard to correct those and set ourselves up, they’re serving us well,” Sandberg said on the Skim’d from The Couch podcast.

From 2017 through 2019, Facebook dealt with a conga line of scandals. 

Most notably, the company came under criticism for its failure to police its services for misinformation ahead of the 2016 U.S. election. In 2018, the company was rocked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the world learned that a data firm improperly accessed the data of 87 million Facebook users and used it to target ads for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. That scandal resulted in a record-breaking $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission. In 2019, four separate antitrust investigations were launched against the company.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a particular black eye for the company, made worse by the fact that Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg waited in silence for five days before publicly addressing the situation. 

Now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Sandberg said Facebook is doing its best to move as quickly as possible. 

“We have felt very much under siege, not quite at this level, but knowing that we had a lot to chew very quickly for the last couple of years,” Sandberg said. “And again, I think the pace at which we’ve been working is serving us well during this period.”

Over the past two months, Facebook has taken a number of steps to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The company has met with the World Health Organization and tech leaders to discuss what solutions Silicon Valley can offer. The company has taken down misinformation and it has banned ads for medical masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and COVID-19 test kits. It has also done a number of programs to support its employees working from home, and it set up a $100 million program to help small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

“When you think about harmful misinformation, you know years ago we didn’t have the policies to take that information down,” she said. “We learned the hard way that we needed that. We had that in place when COVID-19 came around.”


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