Sheryl Sandberg Educates, Mollifies Congress in Almost Perfect Testimony

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Unlike her boss, Sheryl Sandberg came to Capitol Hill ready to fight.

Facebook’s chief operating officer testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee today, alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. And she quickly showed herself to be more prepared than not only the man sitting to her left but also her own boss.

When Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the same committee in April, he dodged most of the questions and promised to get back to Congress on 29 separate things (he did, albeit with vague answers).

But Sandberg used that same crutch only four times today. Contrary to the chaos outside her hearing, she was an oasis of calm.

First and foremost, Sandberg did a much better job of defining and defending Facebook in person than Zuckerberg, who recently tried to explain himself in a Washington Post editorial.

“Social media enables you to share what you want to share when you want to share it without getting permission from anyone,” she said. “The most important determinant is choice.”

Sandberg also noted that Facebook users had raised $300 million from birthday donations, among other charitable endeavors.

And like her boss, Sandberg was forced, at one point, to explain that Facebook stays free and profitable by selling ads. It’s not surprising that the senators on the committee struggle with this, since most of them are between 60 and 80 years old.

But Sandberg didn’t just educate: She was also more willing to accept congressional directives on social media than both Dorsey and Zuckerberg.

“We don’t think it’s a question of whether regulation, we just think it’s a matter of the right regulation that doesn’t squash innovation,” she said.

What’s more, Sandberg said Facebook would be willing to work with law enforcement to identify and investigate foreign or hostile users—and had actually already done so.

Sandberg also gave clearer answers about disinformation on Facebook than her boss. She said Facebook takes the “critical step” of limiting distribution of false content and warning users before they share it or respond to it.

“Bad speech can often be countered by good speech,” she said. “Our opponents are going to keep getting better, and we have to get better.”

Sandberg said Facebook gets better through both “investing in technology and investing in people.”

From a human standpoint, Sandberg was also more sympathetic to the plight of Facebook’s actual users. For example, she said trolls who refer to school shooting survivors as crisis actors are “unbelievably upsetting.”

In addition, Sandberg said that Facebook was helping users with drug problems by requiring treatment centers that buy ads to be certified by a respected third party. She called this “proactive enforcement without increasing liability.”

Not all of Sandberg’s answers were perfect. She faced a harsh line of questioning from Senator Kamala Harris, who pointed out that the most inflammatory or hateful content on Facebook often generates the most engagement.

Sandberg admitted that Facebook’s initial hate speech policies were badly written and had recently changed.

At another point, Senator Tom Cotton asked Sandberg why WikiLeaks was still on Facebook. She said that while she couldn’t defend its actions, none of them violated Facebook’s terms of service. This was a less-than-artful dodge, to say the least.

But Sandberg was a complete pro compared to the person sitting next to her.

Dorsey came to Congress in full mountain man splendor, unshaven and not wearing a tie. His opening statement focused on folksy platitudes about how his Twitter success made his parents proud.

Twitter’s CEO then mumbled his way through unpolished answers, continually falling back on his definition of Twitter as a “public square.” He also annoyingly punctuated many statements with “yeah.”

The relative merits of social media are always up for debate. But when it came to presentation, Facebook wiped the floor with Twitter today.

Sheryl Sandberg Educates, Mollifies Congress in Almost Perfect Testimony