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Mark Zuckerberg goes to war

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In April 2011, Ben Horowitz wrote a blog post about war and business. There are two kinds of CEOs, sa
 
November 19 · Issue #250 · View online
The Interface
In April 2011, Ben Horowitz wrote a blog post about war and business. There are two kinds of CEOs, said the entrepreneur and cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz. There’s the “peacetime” CEO, best represented by Eric Schmidt during Google’s charmed first decade. And then there’s the “wartime” CEO — the one facing an existential threat. Incoming Google CEO Larry Page, he argued, was a wartime CEO — with Facebook ascendant, Page would have to adopt a more combative mindset. Horowitz writes:
In peacetime, leaders must maximize and broaden the current opportunity. As a result, peacetime leaders employ techniques to encourage broad-based creativity and contribution across a diverse set of possible objectives. In wartime, by contrast, the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission.
Seven years later, it’s Facebook’s CEO facing an existential threat — and reading Ben Horowitz. Here’s Deepa Seetharaman from over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal:
Mark Zuckerberg gathered about 50 of his top lieutenants earlier this year and told them that Facebook was at war and he planned to lead the company accordingly.
During times of peace, executives can move more slowly and ensure that everybody is on board with key decisions, he said during the June meeting, according to people familiar with the remarks. But with Facebook under siege from lawmakers, investors and angry users, he needed to act more decisively, the people said.
Facebook’s war has only grown more intense since Zuckerberg made those remarks. There was the Alex Jones controversy; there was the data breach; and then last week there was the Definers fake-news scandal. Calls for Zuckerberg’s removal as chairman, or even CEO, are growing louder — even if such a move remains unlikely in the short term.
But set aside the general for a moment. What of the his top deputy? Sources tell the Journal that Sheryl Sandberg had received a dressing-down in the spring over an earlier wartime-CEO moment, the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal:
This spring, Mr. Zuckerberg told Ms. Sandberg, 49, that he blamed her and her teams for the public fallout over Cambridge Analytica, the research firm that inappropriately accessed private data on Facebook users and used it for political research, according to people familiar with the exchange.
Ms. Sandberg later confided in friends that the exchange rattled her, and she wondered if she should be worried about her job.
Sandberg also issued a mea culpa to the staff on Friday over hiring Definers, which among other things worked with what one former employee described as an “in-house fake news shop” to seed the media ecosystem with stories flattering to Facebook and critical of it enemies. Mike Isaac reports:
Ms. Sandberg, who also attended the session, added that “I fully accept responsibility for Definers,” according to two people familiar with the conversation. “That was on me.“
Taken together, the stories paint a picture of unprecedented tension in one of the tech world’s most celebrated partnerships. Sandberg, who is deservedly credited with transforming Facebook’s business into a global juggernaut, has almost never found herself on the defensive for such an extended period. And I can’t recall a time when word leaked that she was fearful about being fired.
Reading the Journal’s story, I found myself wondering whose interest the Sandberg anecdotes served. And the answer I kept coming back to is — everyone involved. For Zuckerberg, it’s a story about the wartime CEO taking charge. For Sandberg, it conveys the idea that the chief operating officer has been held (lightly!) accountable for her missteps, while also making her more relatable. (Who hasn’t gotten in trouble with their boss?) For Facebook, it presents a picture of a company acting decisively in troubled times.
Of course, it would be best if there weren’t tensions between the CEO and the COO. But Facebook can easily present these as productive tensions, in the service of the very public goal of fixing the company. Zuckerberg himself said last week that Sandberg is a “very important partner to me, and continues to be, and will continue to be.”
That said, it’s long past time for Facebook to re-think its communications strategy, which continues to be led by Elliot Schrage despite him fictitiously stepping down in June. (He appeared on stage during the Friday all-hands to rally the troops, Isaac reported.)
Schrage has been criticized internally for focusing the communications and policy teams on reactive measures, crisis communications, bipartisan politicking, and the occasional smear campaign, while doing little in the way of positive brand-building. This strategy, born of Washington politics, was championed by Schrage, Sandberg, and policy chief Joel Kaplan. And the result is a company that has veered from one crisis to the next for more than two years, deeply damaging trust in the company.
The drawbacks of this strategy have been felt most deeply in the company’s product division — and it helps explain why a handful of them went rogue and implemented their own communications strategy earlier this year. Product executives including Andrew Bosworth and Adam Mosseri began engaging directly with reporters on Twitter, offering candid insights on a wide range of topics. That practice has largely come to an end, but it speaks to the widespread internal frustration that Facebook can’t tell its own story.
That storytelling is currently overseen by Sandberg. I wrote last week that criticisms of the COO, long an unimpeachable figure in the tech world, had suddenly become much more public. (Here are some more.) And yet the more I look at Zuckerberg’s plans for the future, the more vital Sandberg seems. Whatever her flaws, she runs the day-to-day business while he tries to chart a path forward in a very turbulent industry — and she also manages policy and communications organizations that he would rather delegate to someone else.
Sandberg has the money and the reputation to do whatever she likes. At the moment, Facebook needs her more than she needs Facebook. It would have been difficult for Facebook to find a new COO during peacetime. Finding another COO during wartime would be far more difficult.

Democracy
Now eight parliaments are demanding Zuckerberg answers for Facebook scandals
‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America
Instagram will remove fake likes and follows
Facebook Fallout Ruptures Democrats’ Longtime Alliance With Silicon Valley
An Obscure Concealed Carry Group Spent Millions on Facebook Political Ads
Facebook pledges £4.5 million to train local journalists in UK
The Media Wants Congress To Let It Gang Up On Facebook And Google
Tim Cook defends Google search deal despite Apple’s privacy focus
Nationalism a driving force behind fake news in India, research shows
Fake news and hate speech thrive on regional language social media
In ‘Digital India,’ Government Hands Out Free Phones to Win Votes
Inside the British Army's secret information warfare machine
Philippine government threatening Rappler
Elsewhere
Inside the Pricey War to Influence Your Instagram Feed
New Instagram Bug Raises Security Questions ($)
'Less than a McDonald's happy meal': Facebook's video ad breaks aren't working for creators
Facebook exec wants independent probe into death of unarmed brother
Founder’s Big Idea to Revive BuzzFeed’s Fortunes? A Merger With Rivals
Tumblr is missing from Apple’s App Store
Inside Reddit's brand and agency roadshow to lure more ad dollars - Digiday
Launches
Twitter redesigns iOS app to de-emphasize follower counts
YouTube is now streaming free, ad-supported feature films
Snap launches a certification program for AR shops to craft branded lenses
Takes
The Facebook Era is Over
Yes, Facebook made mistakes in 2016. But we weren’t the only ones.
‘Facebook Cannot Be Trusted to Regulate Itself’
Despite its flaws, Facebook still holds my memories
And finally ...
Oh nothing just an Instagram mom lamenting (on her son’s 6th birthday) that he receives fewer likes than all her other children and worries that it will impact his self-esteem when he grows up. (Click through to see the second image.)
Stephanie McNeal
Omg this Instagram mommy blogger is celebrating her sons bday by writing about how out of all her kids, he “statistically” performs the worse on her Instagram. And she’s worried one day it will ruin his self esteem 👀💀 https://t.co/QpFfJwDOab
9:10 AM - 19 Nov 2018
If you pitched this woman to Black Mirror they would reject you for being too heavy-handed. Goodbye!
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your thoughts on who leaked the Sandberg anecdote: casey@theverge.com.
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