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Facebook Apologizes to U.S. Mayors, Promising ‘Philosophical Shift’

The chief operating officer issued an apology for recent data use and elections scandals during the United States Conference of Mayors in Boston June 8.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg offered an apology to attendees at the United States Conference of Mayors over the social media giant’s handling of privacy issues and allowing outsiders to interfere in U.S. elections by leveraging the company’s massive platform. 

“The big question people have is did we know we were too slow? Too slow on election interference, fake news and data protection?,” Sandberg rhetorically asked, according to video of her remarks June 8. “We do. But it’s not enough to be sorry. What matters is the action we are taking.”
Those actions now include a “big philosophical shift” from where the company was when Sandberg joined it 10 years ago. Back then, the company was focused on the benefits that social connections could bring by connecting people; but it is now acutely aware of the harm that can occur from high-profile debacles such as Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook targeting model and lax privacy controls that tended to favor the company and its desire to share user information with its advertisers.

The company’s goal is to protect user information and ensure the tools on its platform are used for good, Sandberg says. 

Facebook is taking such steps as severing ties with data brokers, adjusting its privacy settings so users have more control over their personal information and expanding their bug bounty program to reward users who report data misuse by a third-party application developer.

Cities Hear Mea Culpa, but Also Benefits

The COO also offered attendees a bit of good news, noting an expansion of services to benefit cities across the nation. 

The company’s in-person digital training system, Facebook Community Boost, will now be expanded from 30 cities nationwide to 50 cities by the end of 2018. Community Boost, initially launched in late 2017, aims to help cities create jobs by offering its citizens access to digital skills training. 

Additionally, Facebook is growing its local partnerships from 60 organizations to also include 20 new community colleges by the end of the year. And by 2020, Facebook plans to train an additional 250,000 small- to mid-sized business (SMBs) owners how to effectively advertise on its platform under its free eLearning program Blueprint.

Sandberg also noted the company this fall will launch “Learn with Facebook,” a free online training course that covers new digital skills beyond digital advertising.

And digital skills can turn into job growth. According to Sandberg, 60 percent of SMBs on Facebook’s platform say digital skills are more important than the school or college an individual attended when they are hiring.

Three years ago, Facebook commissioned a study and found the 80 million SMBs on its platform worldwide generated 4.5 million jobs in one year, says Sandberg, who added that figure is likely even higher.

Worldwide, 57 percent of SMBs on Facebook say there are hiring because of the social media giant, she added.

“When people get the opportunity to get the training they need, they can get great jobs,” Sandberg says. “And it is up to us to provide that training.”