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Sheryl Sandberg at MIT commencement: ‘It’s hard knowing that you let people down’

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says she knows she's let people down.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says she knows she’s let people down.

Image: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS

Sheryl Sandberg hopes future business leaders can learn from Facebook’s recent failures.

Speaking at MIT’s commencement ceremony Friday, the Facebook COO spoke about the company’s recent struggles and encouraged graduates not to make the same “painful” mistakes.

Though she didn’t explicitly mention any of the issues Facebook’s grappled with, like privacy and the spread of fake news, she alluded to the social network’s role in sowing discord.

“Today anyone with an internet connection can inspire millions with a single sentence or a single image. This gives extraordinary power to the people who use it to do good…But it also empowers those who seek to do harm,” she said.

“When everyone has a voice, some raise their voices in hatred. When everyone can share, some share lies. When everyone can organize, some organize against the things we value most.”

Sandberg’s appearance at MIT comes at time when Facebook is struggling to repair its image. After  months of trying to get ahead of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, in which millions of users’ ill-gotten Facebook data was provided to a Trump-linked data firm, the company has been hit with two more privacy scandals in the last week alone.

Facebook executives faced questions over partnerships it formed with phone and tablet makers, including Chinese companies that have been labeled a security threat by U.S. officials. And, just one day before Sandberg’s speech, Facebook admitted a “bug” had inadvertently changed the default privacy settings for 14 million users.

Naturally, Sandberg didn’t touch any of these issues, but she struck a similar tone as Mark Zuckerberg has in recent weeks, admitting that the company didn’t do enough to prevent these types of issues.

“At Facebook, we didn’t see all the risks coming. And we didn’t do enough to stop them,” she said. 

“It’s painful when you miss something – when you make the mistake of believing so much in the good you are seeing that you don’t look hard enough for the bad. It’s hard knowing that you let people down.”

It’s not a message that resonated with everyone in attendance, though. A group called “Freedom From Facebook” bought a full-page ad calling for the breakup of Facebook in MIT’s student newspaper ahead of Sandberg’s appearance.

She also encouraged the class of 2018 to give more thought to their own responsibility in ensuring technology is used for good.

“Know that you have an obligation to never shy away from doing the right thing, because the fight to ensure tech is used for good is never over.”

You can watch Sandberg’s full remarks in the video below.

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