Today, Axios sat down with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for a brief interview of somewhat tough questions. The conversation spanned many subjects, but it primarily focused on Facebook’s ad platform, Russian interference, and fake news.
Sandberg has the uncanny ability to appear like she’s answering a question head-on while obfuscating the subject at hand. For instance, she danced around the idea of Facebook being a media company. Similarly, she refused to give a real answer about whether Facebook provides people with a filter bubble of their own ideologies.
The same can be said–plus some–about when she was asked about similarities between the Trump campaign’s digital ad practices and the Russian-linked ads. Axios’s Mike Allen asked point-blank if there was overlap in the targeting of Russian-bought ads and Trump campaign ads. Sandberg simply did not answer. Instead, she explained what targeting is. “Targeting on Facebook is broad,” she said. “We allow targeting to different groups.” She then went into a long explanation about why Facebook allows the practice. Allen asked again if there was overlap in the two different campaigns and, once again, she wouldn’t touch it. “We will also be releasing the targeting for those [Russian] ads,” she said.
There’s a lot at stake here. With questions of potential collusion between Trump and the Kremlin swirling around the country, Facebook presumably has the ability to look under its own hood and provide answers. It may even be able to settle the collusion question once and for all.
While not terribly surprising, Allen’s exchange with Sandberg does highlight the rhetorical tightrope Facebook is walking. There are concrete questions about how its platform was used over the last two years, and the company is trying to look open while remaining opaque. In essence, what we learned from Sandberg today is that we should expect to hear more of the same; we likely won’t be getting many straight answers.
Sandberg ended this line of questioning talking about the data Facebook will soon release about the Russian ad campaigns. “We will be fully transparent,” she said. Sure.