June 2, 2022

Big news in the world of social media on Wednesday as Sheryl Sandberg announced she is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta.

In a lengthy announcement on — where else? — Facebook, Sandberg told the story of how she first met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, what convinced her to join his company and the pride she has had working at Facebook.

About Zuckerberg, Sandberg, 52, wrote, “Sitting by Mark’s side for these 14 years has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime. Mark is a true visionary and a caring leader. He sometimes says that we grew up together, and we have. He was just 23 and I was already 38 when we met, but together we have been through the massive ups and downs of running this company, as well as his marriage to the magnificent Priscilla, the sorrow of their miscarriages and the joy of their childbirths, the sudden loss of Dave (Sandberg’s husband who died unexpectedly in 2015), my engagement to Tom (Bernthal), and so much more. In the critical moments of my life, in the highest highs and in the depths of true lows, I have never had to turn to Mark, because he was already there.”

As far as leaving, Sandberg wrote, “When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life. I am not entirely sure what the future will bring — I have learned no one ever is. But I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”

Sandberg also mentioned her upcoming marriage to Bernthal this summer and their new melded family, as well as her foundation and philanthropy. She finished by writing, “I am so immensely proud of everything this team has achieved. The businesses we’ve helped and the business we’ve built. The culture we’ve nurtured together. And I’m especially proud that this is a company where many, many exceptional women and people from diverse backgrounds have risen through our ranks and become leaders — both in our company and in leadership roles elsewhere.”

Sandberg will still serve on Meta’s board of directors.

In an interview with The Verge’s Alex Heath, Sandberg said, “There’s no perfect time (to leave). It is a job that’s been an honor and a privilege, but it’s not a job that leaves a lot of time to do much else.”

In his own Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote that it was the “end of an era.” He called Sandberg “an amazing person, leader, partner, and friend.” He added, “I’m going to miss running this company with Sheryl. But I’m glad that she’ll continue to serve on our board of directors so we can benefit from her wisdom and experience even after she transitions out of her day-to-day management role in the coming months.”

Zuckerberg named Javier Olivan, the company’s chief growth officer, as COO, although he said Olivan’s role will be different than Sandberg’s.

So those are the details and the facts. But what else is there to know?

Sandberg’s time at Facebook was not without controversy. Often referred to as the “adult in the room,” Sandberg certainly helped Zuckerberg grow Facebook into one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world.

“But,” The New York Times’ Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel wrote, “after the 2016 presidential election, Facebook came under intense scrutiny for how it was misused to stoke division and to spread misinformation. Ms. Sandberg was responsible for the policy and security team at the company during that election. The social network also was dogged by privacy questions after a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling firm that improperly used Facebook data. Ms. Sandberg, who was one of Facebook’s most visible executives, was unable to recover from those stumbles. In recent years, Mr. Zuckerberg took a higher public profile and a greater role in overseeing different parts of the company, many of which had been under Ms. Sandberg’s sole purview.”

The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin, Naomi Nix and Rachel Lerman wrote, “Sandberg’s tenure at Facebook was marked by repeated political controversies that tarnished her brand even as she tried to distance herself from them. That includes the controversy of Russian operatives sowing disinformation on the service during the 2016 election, as well as the 2018 controversy over Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-affiliated consultancy that siphoned data from millions of Facebook users inappropriately. Sandberg, who ran the company’s policy division during these scandals, also publicly downplayed Facebook’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — a stance that was viewed as a mistake after reports revealed that extensive organizing for the Capitol riots took place on Facebook’s services.”

In a scathing statement, Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the left-leaning Media Matters for America, said, “During Sheryl Sandberg’s 14-year tenure at Meta, the company’s social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — devolved into cesspools of disinformation, racism, misogyny, violent conspiracy theories, and alt-right organizing. Sheryl Sandberg knew this was a problem, and — like CEO Mark Zuckerberg — she failed to act. Sandberg leaves Meta, and the social media environment that Facebook helped create, in a far worse place than she found it. Hers is a legacy of enabling trolling, harassment, and abuse.”

In an interview with the Times, Sandberg said, “I believe in this company. Have we gotten everything right? Absolutely not. Have we learned and listened and grown and invested where we need to? This team has and will.”

So it’s a time for change for both Sandberg and Facebook. Her leaving did not come as a surprise to those inside of Facebook, as well as industry workers and observers.

The Post wrote, “Now Sandberg will face the task of reinventing herself as separate from Facebook and its controversies, as the company goes through its own rebranding.”

Trying to get answers

Good work by CNN reporters Shimon Prokupecz and Aaron Cooper for pressing Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the Uvalde, Texas, school police chief who was in charge of the now heavily criticized law enforcement response to last week’s school shooting that killed 21 people, including 19 children.

As CNN noted on its website: “It’s the first time Arredondo has commented since two brief press statements on the day of the attack, in which he said the gunman was dead but provided little information on the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation. He took no questions at the time and has not appeared in a public forum since.”

In this instance, Cooper tried getting answers from Arredondo outside Arredondo’s home, while Prokupecz talked to Arrendondo outside of the police chief’s office building. Arrendondo didn’t say much, but the CNN reporters tried.

At one point, Prokupcz said, “How do you explain yourself?”

“We’re going to be respectful, respectful to the families,” Arredondo repeatedly said.

“I understand that,” Prokupecz said. “You have an opportunity to explain yourself to the parents.”

To which Arredondo said, “We’re going to do that eventually, obviously.”

There’s more, so click on the link above.

More coverage of the Uvalde school shooting

The Depp-Heard trial

Actor Amber Heard reacts with her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft after the verdict was read at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va, on Wednesday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)

I’ve written almost nothing about the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial — not purposefully, but because there has been so much else to cover in the newsletter. The high-profile six-week trial between the formerly married movie stars came to an end when a jury found that the actors defamed each other.

The jury found that Heard defamed Depp in three statements, while Depp defamed Heard once. The jury awarded Depp $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Because punitive damages are capped in Virginia, where the trial was held, Depp ultimately was awarded $10.35 million. The jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages, but nothing in punitive damages.

At the center of Depp’s case was an op-ed that Heard wrote for The Washington Post in 2018. She never mentioned Depp by name, but wrote she was a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” The headline on that op-ed was “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

During deliberations, the headline came into question. The jury asked the judge, “Does question three, the statement is false, pertain to the headline or does it pertain to the content of the statement, everything written in the op-ed?”

Judge Penney Azcarate told the jury that they should only consider whether the headline was false, not whether the entire op-ed was false. Heard also was being sued for two other statements in the op-ed.

After the verdict, Heard said in a statement that her disappointment was “beyond words” and that she was “heartbroken.” She added that the verdict “sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

In a statement, Depp said the jury “gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”

There has been plenty of reaction to the trial, in which both Depp and Heard accused the other of physical abuse. Julia Jacobs and Adam Bednar of The New York Times called it “one of the highest-profile civil cases of the #MeToo era to go to trial.”

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Moira Donegan wrote, “The trial has turned into a public orgy of misogyny. While most of the vitriol is nominally directed at Heard, it is hard to shake the feeling that really, it is directed at all women — and in particular, at those of us who spoke out about gendered abuse and sexual violence during the height of the #MeToo movement. We are in a moment of virulent antifeminist backlash, and the modest gains that were made in that era are being retracted with a gleeful display of victim-blaming at a massive scale. One woman has been made into a symbol of a movement that many view with fear and hatred, and she’s being punished for that movement. In this way, Heard is still in an abusive relationship. But now, it’s not just with Depp, but with the whole country.”

Writing for Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky — yes, that Monica Lewinsky  — wrote, “Like many, I have averted my eyes — with guilty fascination — even as I’ve kept track of the defamation conflagration. As we all do nowadays, we watch or we read or we media-graze about these private turned public spectacles in bits and bytes, fearing that the sheer rancor and vulgarity might leave a kind of virtual stench — or, in my case, worrying that prolonged viewing might be triggering. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Google: 1998.)”

Lewinsky went on to smartly write that most of us didn’t watch each minute of the trial, but saw snippets through the lens of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.). Lewinsky wrote, “Our consumption, therefore, has tended to be biased, curated, and cursory. What’s more, we have become so attuned to this narrow, cynical cycle of social media encounters that we consider the trial not tragic or pathetic, but as a pure car wreck: accessible, tawdry, and immediately gratifying. We dispense with critical thinking and substitute the cheap thrill. Such scattershot consumption hasn’t allowed for real comprehension. Instead, we experience only apprehension, knee-jerk outrage, and titillation. It’s like going to the opera and reading a couple of translated supertitles but not understanding Italian. And despite whatever else this is, it is a soap opera.”

If you get a chance to read Lewinsky’s whole piece, do so. It’s very perceptive.

Notable coverage involving Russia-Ukraine

The war continues in Ukraine. Here is some of the significant coverage that deserves your attention:

The only choice

A tribute for John Madden is seen on the video board during a moment of silence prior to an NFL game in Baltimore in January. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Usually, an NFL star player graces the cover of the popular Madden NFL video game. For a player, it can be a big deal. (Although, because of the so-called Madden Curse, some players might be nervous about being selected for the cover.)

But for the newest game — “Madden NFL 23” — there couldn’t be a better pick for the cover. It will be the man for whom the game is named: legendary coach John Madden, who died last December. The last time Madden was the main cover person was in 2000 — a year after the game debuted. He did appear in a small photo for several years, but hasn’t been on the cover at all since “Madden NFL 06.”

Seann Graddy, the executive producer of Madden NFL, told ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, “We were thinking about this year’s game and who was going to go on it; it almost became an obvious answer. I say that because we really wanted to celebrate Coach in the product this year and what he’s meant to us for the 30-plus years that we’ve been using his name in our game.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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