She has made a popular social network into an advertising machine, a symbol of the major internet platforms and their ultra-controversial economic model: Sheryl Sandberg, number two at Meta (Facebook), announced her resignation on Wednesday.
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“After 14 years, I will be leaving Meta,” said the Silicon Valley chief operating officer on Facebook, who will nevertheless remain on the Board of Directors.
She assured that these years "alongside Mark" Zuckerberg, the boss and founder of the company, have been "the honor and the privilege of a lifetime", while the Californian group is widely criticized by politicians and the public. civil society for its practices, from the collection of personal data to the moderation of content.
"It's the end of an era," the billionaire commented on his profile.
He recalled that in 2008, when he hired Sheryl Sandberg, he was only 23 and knew "nothing about corporate governance."
She was 38, and a career with prestigious organizations, from the World Bank to the consulting group McKinsey. She had also worked for the US Treasury as director of personnel and Google as vice president of international sales and operations.
“Sheryl designed the architecture of our advertising business, recruited great people, shaped our corporate culture and taught me how to run a company,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote. "She created opportunities for millions of people around the world and it's in large part because of her that Meta became the band it is today."
“It was not easy”
After establishing itself as the world's leading social network in the 2000s, Facebook expanded and acquired other services, such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, to remain essential.
With some 3.6 billion monthly users (people who use one of its platforms at least once a month), Meta is now worth more than $500 billion.
A spokesperson told AFP that Javier Olivan would be the new chief operating officer, but Mark Zuckerberg said he does not intend to replace Sheryl Sandberg's position as is.
“I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and our different businesses to be more integrated with each other,” he said.
At the end of 2021, the founder renamed the parent company "Meta", to mark the turning point towards the metaverse, this parallel universe accessible in augmented and virtual reality.
But its economic model is still based on targeted advertising on a very large scale, and therefore on the attention and data of users.
It has sparked controversy after controversy since 2016. And many authorities accuse it of abuse of a dominant position, like its neighbor Google, the world leader in digital advertising.
“The debate around social networks no longer has anything to do with the beginnings,” remarked Sheryl Sandberg in her long message, where she looks back on the main stages of her fourteen years at Facebook.
"To say it hasn't always been easy is an understatement. But it's normal for it to be difficult. Our products have immense impact, so we have a responsibility to design them in a way that protects people's privacy and security."
"Mom" is leaving
The announcement of his departure surprised the market.
“She had a huge influence on Facebook, Meta and the business world in general,” said Debra Williamson, analyst at eMarketer. "She helped Facebook build a world-class ad buying platform and develop innovative formats for brands."
But given the current challenges — slowing user growth and ad revenue — "the business needs a new path forward, and maybe now is the right time for a departure from Sandberg," she added.
"This makes strategic sense as the company transitions to new sources of growth like the metaverse," said Angelo Zino of CFRA Research.
Reading the messages of the two leaders, “one has the impression that the relationship between them is no longer necessary or no longer works”, reacted Carolina Milanesi, analyst of Creative Strategies.
"It's like Mark saying Mom was watching me, but I'm grown up now. »
Sheryl Sandberg is also known for her bestsellers, a book on her widowhood and "En avant tous", on the means for a woman to combine personal success and a professional career.
But she had been widely criticized for putting herself forward when her fortune largely allowed her to escape the hassle of widows less well off financially or the countless obstacles faced by women.