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The long knives are out for Facebook. Watching it thrust and parry, without appearing to be defensive, will make for Silicon Valley’s most compelling political theater of the season.
This week Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer and top business executive, made the rounds on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers and journalists that Facebook cares. Sandberg is an awkward position. She was certain 11 months ago Facebook hadn’t affected the U.S. presidential election when it became apparent that Russian fraudsters spread lies to the U.S. electorate on the social network. Now she and her company aren’t so sure, and they’re trying to make amends.
I liken the treatment Facebook (FB) is getting to what I used to call the New York Yankees Effect. The best team in the biggest market with the most colorful players was going to get a ton of scrutiny for everything it did. (Yankees fans, for the first time in years, have a shot at being hated again, and they couldn’t be happier.) Likewise, whatever happens on Facebook is magnified by the appropriate scrutiny applied to the market leader, especially one that is so sure of its righteousness—until it isn’t.
Revisionism will follow. Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton dug up remorseful ex-employees of Facebook, chagrined by the monster they Frankensteined to life. African-American legislators have found their opening, again, appropriately, to criticize Facebook’s lack of diversity, particularly on its board of directors.
A funny thing about Facebook’s “problems.” Eleven months ago, when I wrote a feature that celebrated Mark Zuckerberg as Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year, the company was worth $350 billion. Today Facebook is worth half a trillion dollars. Facebook can spend and talk endlessly to defend itself so long as it keeps printing money.