Speed Reads

Sighing all the way to the bank

The Trump presidency left Facebook deeply unpopular and wealthier than ever

The presidency of Donald Trump spawned one scandal after another for Facebook, from its help spreading Russian information in 2016 to the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting revelations to Facebook's central role in facilitating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Those scandals have helped make Facebook deeply unpopular in Washington and even among its own users, The New York Times reports. At the same time, "Facebook's market valuation is now over $1 trillion." 

Since the 2016 election, "the same tools that allowed Facebook's business to more than double during those years — such as the News Feed that prioritized engagement and the Facebook groups that pushed like-minded people together — had been used to spread misinformation," the Times reports. "To achieve its record-setting growth, the company had continued building on its core technology, making business decisions based on how many hours of the day people spent on Facebook and how many times a day they returned," whether to spread birthday wishes or burrow down "a rabbit hole of conspiracies and misinformation."

The Trump years also cracked the foundational working relationship between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, as Zuckerberg cultivated a friendly relationship with Trump and his top advisers and Sandberg's political acumen faltered, the Times reports. Zuckerberg started making policy decision on political speech and Trump's spread of misinformation, decisions "Sandberg often lobbied against or told allies she felt uncomfortable with."

"The fault lines that the authors depict between Mark and Sheryl and the people who work with them do not exist," Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever told the Times — which, based on more than 400 interviews, seemed unconvinced. 

Zuckerberg now relies less on the counsel of Sandberg or other top executives and more on "two internal metrics, known internally as GFW, Good-for-the-World, and CAU, Cares-about-users," the Times reports. "Facebook constantly polls its own users on whether they saw Facebook as one or both of those things. Both the numbers plummeted, and remained low" amid scandal after scandal, and they've "failed to rise, no matter how many promises Facebook made to do better and how many new security programs the company started." 

Zuckerberg again promised to do better at easing political polarization on a Jan. 27 earnings call, while Sandberg announced that quarterly revenue was up 33 percent to $28 billion, "the fastest growth rate in over two years." Read more about Facebook's lucrative travails at The New York Times.