sheryl sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg
Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images

Maybe the problem with Facebook isn’t entirely Mark Zuckerberg.  Maybe it has something to do with their board of directors?  On Wednesday, Facebook’s board defended COO Sheryl Sandberg’s request to investigate George Soros, who is a prominent critic of Facebook.  During a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Soros indicated that tech companies like Facebook and Google are a “menace”.  Now, before I go any further, is he really wrong by saying that?  Lately, Facebook has been getting into a lot of trouble, at least at the media level, so is it really so hard to see where Soros is coming with all of this?

The letter from the Facebook board of directors says:

“As is to be expected following an attack from such a well-known and widely respected figure, Facebook staff immediately initiated research to attempt to understand the motivations driving the criticism, financial or otherwise. o be clear, Ms. Sandberg’s question was entirely appropriate given her role as COO. When a well-known and outspoken investor attacks your company publicly, it is fair and appropriate to do this level of diligence.”

But what are they looking for?  This response follows a series of reports that Sandberg may have had more knowledge about the opposition work than she initially let on.  As acknowledged by the board in their response to Patrick Gaspard, it was revealed last week that Sandberg herself, requested information on Soros.

In his letter to Facebook’s board on Tuesday, Gaspard said Facebook’s failure to “take responsibility for the content published on your platform” had “implications for democracy itself.” He called for an independent investigation into Facebook’s opposition campaign against Soros and said that Sandberg had not spoken “in good faith” when she reportedly told Gaspard that she knew nothing about such work by Definers, the opposition research firm that distributed factually misleading information about Soros to reporters on Facebook’s behalf.

Gaspard noted, there have been inconsistencies in Sandberg’s own admission of how much she knew of Definers’ work for Facebook.  She originally denied how much she knew of the work being done for the company.  In fact, she initially denied knowing about Definers at all, only later to concede that their work was incorporated into materials presented to her.  So which is it?  Does she know about them or not?

What’s interesting is the fact that the Facebook board is siding and even defending Sandberg.  I’m a bit torn on how I think a board should act in this situation.  Mostly because a board is there to hold leaders accountable. You can’t just do what you want, whenever you want it, and consequences be damned.  But that’s what keeps happening with Facebook. Regardless of what happens, the board stands behind Facebook.  It doesn’t matter how badly their reputation is tarnished, or what they’ve done to the people who use Facebook.  None of that matters.  So I will go back to my original postulation – maybe the problem isn’t with Facebook entirely, but the board of directors are the ones to blame for all the Facebook failures over the last few years?