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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg joins Influencers with Andy Serwer

In this episode of Influencers, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg joins Andy Serwer to discuss the company’s efforts to boost small business and the COVID-19 impact on social media habits.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: Bringing the world closer together. That's Facebook's mission statement, and you could argue that in today's environment of isolation, distancing, and quarantining, it's more relevant than ever. Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has been making her mark in Silicon Valley for nearly 20 years. After working at the World Bank and the US Treasury, Sandberg joined Google, helping to create one of the world's most profitable tech companies before leaving to become Facebook's chief operating officer. Today, she joins me to discuss the value of social media at a time when the world is struggling to stay connected.


- "Influencers" with Andy Serwer is brought to you by Verizon.

ANDY SERWER: Hello, I'm Andy Serwer, and you're watching "Influencers," and I want to welcome our guest, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. Sheryl, nice to see you.

SHERYL SANDBERG: Nice to be here. Thank you for having me, I guess, in my house.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, in your house. We'll talk about that. Everything is so different right now in terms of how we're working and all that. There's-- there's so much to talk about. And there's a lot that you guys are doing at Facebook. You, just a few hours ago, Sheryl, announced a community help part of your platform to help people fight, I guess, COVID-19. Can you talk a little bit about that?

SHERYL SANDBERG: And can I say first thank you for having me but also, you know, I'm thinking of so many people out there. I know there are some people who are seriously ill in my family and friend group. I know that's true for a lot of people-- so much economic insecurity. So I think it's a really important time to come together, so I'm glad to be with you.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah. And you had this really neat film, "Never Lost," and, you know, that had some really remarkable images in that. It's very, very powerful stuff. But there are so many facets of Facebook. And, for instance, another thing you guys have done is to launch an endeavor to help small and medium businesses, $100 million. How does that work, Sheryl?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, we're in the business of small business. They are posting to their customers. They're finding customers. And so when this happened and people started shutting down and sheltering at home, we heard from a lot of small businesses that they were really in crisis and not able to make payroll, not sure what they were gonna do. And so we try to jumped in-- jump in and help. I mean, we all have to do what we can do in this situation. So we launched a fund. It's $100 million, majority of cash, some ad credits, for small businesses in 30 countries around the world to apply for emergency funding.

ANDY SERWER: I want to talk to you about another part of the effort, I think, which is connected to coronavirus and Facebook, Sheryl, and that is the $100 million that is going to media. You have $25 million in grants to local organizations, news organizations, and then $75 million going to a marketing campaign. Can you break that down and talk to us a little bit about how that works?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, it's part of what we're focused on is we want to make sure people get the information they need. We're working with the WHO, CDC, to provide that, but local news is really important here. People need to know what's happening in their local area, both from a health perspective and economic perspective, knowing what things are open. And so we launched a 23-- announced $25 million in grants to local news organizations. We're gonna be working with some nonprofits to give those out as well as $75 million in marketing spent that we're gonna shift over to newspapers, to organizations, so that we can spend money to help news organizations, not just the local ones but the big ones, get through this really important time.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I mean part of that, I gather, is to fill the void because advertisers are reluctant to put their campaigns up against coronavirus content. So in other words, even though so many people are coming to news organizations, websites, and platforms, the ad spend is not there. And so I'm curious, I mean, so many people must be coming to Facebook and Insta and Whatsapp, et cetera, and messenger, but are you seeing a drop off in ad spend in the sense that advertisers are reluctant to put their ads in a time that coronavirus is being discussed on Facebook?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, this is a major economic challenge, and I-- I think you're right that marketers are afraid to put their ads up, but it's also that a lot of businesses are closed. Even big businesses, hotels, travel agencies, you know, big things people are not doing. You know, airlines are empty. Hotels are empty or closed. And so there's a lot of marketing spend that's not happening now, and that's certainly gonna hit our business. And that's one of the reasons we thought the way we could help news organizations is we can keep spending, and we can shift that spending to them so that they can continue to see the revenue they need. You know, journalism is hugely important all the time, but it's probably never been more important than it is right now, when people really need critical information about what's going on. And that means that those businesses have to be supported. So we're doing it by spending money, and we're doing it by granting money.

ANDY SERWER: So so many people, I would imagine, or businesses or causes would come to you maybe in ordinary times and maybe especially now and ask for support. How do you and Mark and the rest of the leadership team decide how to allocate your resources in something like this?

SHERYL SANDBERG: So we're working very quickly and looking where we think the biggest need is and where that need intersects with the organizational touch points we have. You know, again, we're in the business of small businesses. The majority of our customers are small businesses, so we're very close to them. We're not only providing this grant funding, but we're providing a lot of free tools, online training. A lot of businesses have to close, but some businesses are trying to stay open and/or shifting business online. So you can set up a free web/mobile page by using a Facebook page. We're training people in how to use our tools and others so that they can migrate their businesses online and try to keep the lights on, keep it-- keep businesses up and running through this period. So that was an obvious touch-point for us.

So is news. People consume news. We have, you know, deep relationships with news agencies. We've announced a $300 million commitment before to help news organizations. So again, it's part of the regular-- regular responsibility and, I think, partnerships we have. We've been long focused on local news because we know what the challenges news organizations are facing. A lot of the hardest hit ones are the local news organizations, so that's been a big focus for us before this and a special focus for us during this time.

ANDY SERWER: All right, and generally speaking, though, you guys, you know, you-- you're obviously a for profit business with a PNL. You've got Wall Street, you've got investors who count on you, but you also want to give back and be supportive at the same time. So is that kind of a balancing act that way?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Not now, and maybe not always. Look, we're a-- we're a big business, and we feel so fortunate. We are paying all of our employees, all of our contractors, whether they can work, whether they can't work, whether they're home, whether they're sick. We have the ability to do that. But a lot of small businesses don't, so we think it's our responsibility in these economic times to step up and do as much as we can. And how that impacts on our business is just not what's-- what's-- what's most important here. What's most important here is every business, every individual, stepping up and doing all they can to really make sure we help. I have not seen anything like this in my lifetime. I don't-- have you? I mean, I don't know if anyone has, right?

ANDY SERWER: I mean, let's talk about that a little bit because, you know, we've seen some crises before, the two of us, like 2008, 2009. Um, I think we're both old enough to remember the dot.com crash, right? But this is completely different. And so it involves personal safety as well as business goals combined. It's very complicated, right?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Very complicated. You know, when I think about what's going on in our economy and how, as you said, there's just so much uncertainty. You know, I used to work very, very, very long time ago in economics, and, you know, there's always uncertainty in economic forecasting. Economists have always forecast with a big range. Now you're adding onto economic uncertainty health uncertainty with a virus that we don't really know that trajectory. I mean, some of the most basic things are not really that well understood. And so I think that makes it incredibly hard time to forecast, but an incredibly important time to bring people together. It's an incredibly important time to support small businesses. An incredibly important time for people to stay connected-- all of these tools that keep us connected from our homes that we provide that other companies provide has never, I think, been more important.

ANDY SERWER: Right, and we've talked about this, Sheryl. I mean, in a way what you do-- part of your mission is bringing the world together, right? Your mission statement. And so boy, you could argue that that's never been more important than right now. And so how are you changing what's going on on your platforms to sort of meet this time?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, the first thing we're doing is really using our platforms to push information to people. So we're working very closely with the WHO, the CDC, health ministries around the world. And we are, you know, putting right in the top of people's news feed notifications that they need to see. So when the UK government wanted everyone to stay home, they came to us, and we put that notification big and bold so everyone could see it.

We're also taking a hard look at the ongoing things that need to happen that I think are even more important in these moments. So Wednesday is census day. That's the day that every American in their homes should have received information to sign up for the census. Now on the one hand with all of the urgent things going on, people worried about health and life and economic downturn, filling out a form might not sound that important. But it is. This only happens once every 10 years. The way we count people-- that is how our resources are divided. That is how we are represented in Congress. And even before this crisis, not everyone is counted, and underrepresented groups are also undercounted in the census, including, by the way young people and children. So we think there's never been a more important time for really people to participate in a census.

We got pretty, I don't know if lucky, but we're fortunate in that this is the first time you can complete the census online. And in a world of social distancing where there aren't gonna be as many people knocking on doors and there aren't gonna be as many people to answer those doors or go to places, being able to fill out the census is so important. And so we've been notifying everyone we can in the United States on the top of Facebook, on the top of Instagram, to let them know it's time to fill out the census. You can do it online.

So we see one of the things we can do in these moments is to help get people the information they want. It's also been just really incredible to see what happens on our platforms. I mean, I'll share one story from earlier today which is really sad and really beautiful, but I think speaks to the moment we're in. There's a wonderful man named Eli Beer. He started an organization called United Hatzalah, which helps provide emergency services to get people help faster. So he's spent his life saving other people, and he is unfortunately very sick with coronavirus in a hospital in Miami. He's from Israel.

There was a Facebook Live early this morning with rabbis from Jerusalem, from Israel, rabbis and people all over the world, including my parents, who were very close with him in Miami, praying for him. And they did it on Facebook Live and on YouTube. And, you know, it's that moment that combines the health and the things we're almost afraid of with the humanity that, you know, it's the oldest of things in prayer and maybe the newest of things in Facebook Live. And I think it's those moments that give me hope that we haven't lost our humanity, that we can come together and pray for someone's life, someone who really deserves to live, as everyone does.

ANDY SERWER: You know, that's an interesting dichotomy you point out that, oh, the very old, the very oldest in this very new digital world. Also I saw suddenly you posted with a doctor, two doctors, singing-- one doctor singing "Imagine" and the other one playing piano. That was really amazing, Right

SHERYL SANDBERG: And the pope, the pope is doing math on Facebook Live.

ANDY SERWER: Oh, is that right?

SHERYL SANDBERG: I mean, again, the oldest and the newest, right? But how amazing in these moments where people need spirituality, they need to reach out, that people can come together on these tools and these platforms.

ANDY SERWER: So you talked about the census and trying to provide people with information about the coronavirus. And obviously people are concerned about misinformation. And you've had to address that with regard to the census and now, of course, I think also with COVID-19. How specifically are you trying to make sure the information is accurate on the platforms?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, it's interesting because, obviously, this has been a rough phase for Facebook. It's been years of really figuring out how do we get ahead of things like misinformation. And we've made massive investments, and we've learned a lot, and I think those lessons and those investments are really serving us well right now. You know, we know a couple of things. We know that we don't want any misinformation that leads to imminent harm on our platforms, and we know we're not the experts. So right at the beginning of this, we went to the WHO and the CDC and health ministries and said, "Please help us. You tell us what are the facts that cause imminent harm that you want down, and we're gonna to-- get to do everything we can to take them down." And all the tools we've built up over the years, the AI tools and machine learning tools and the human review, we're deploying all of those to get these things down as quickly as possible. And I think that makes a really, really big difference.

We're also trying to proactively push the messages they want out. So the WHO asked us to get a hand washing video out. Now kind of sounds small, but it's not because now that I saw it, and I did one-- they asked me to and I did-- washing your hands the way they want you to, to really protect yourself against the virus-- I didn't understand what that was. That is, you know, 50 seconds, 40 seconds to 60 seconds of, you know, very rigorous rubbing. But that can save lives.


SHERYL SANDBERG: So we are both trying to take down the stuff that can cause harm but really get out the stuff that can lead to some good and some prevention.

ANDY SERWER: And with regard to some of the things that you were taking down, were you searching for key phrases and key words? What-- what's the AI part of that about?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Yes, all of the above. We search for key phrases. We search for keywords. And we take down posts that could lead-- that could lead to imminent harm. We've also been pushing people to our COVID-19 hub of which this community-- community page is now new. And we've pushed almost a billion people to that hub and through other educational pop-ups. So the numbers of the people we can reach are big, and I think that gives us a really opportunity to help but also a pretty deep responsibility to do everything we can to get the right information out to people.

ANDY SERWER: I think somewhat related, it may be spinning things forward a little bit, Sheryl, looking towards November and the election. And of course, I know you guys are just laser focused on making sure that the information with regard to the election is all accurate as well or as accurate as possible. But you're gonna have a situation maybe where voting is gonna be different this year because we might have virtual voting by mail. Are you guys starting to discuss how that could be very different this time around?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, election integrity has been a huge high-- hugely high priority for us since 2016. You know, in 2016 we missed coordinated inauthentic behavior on our platforms. We don't know what it was, but now we do, and we've been working hard at it. We had a, I think, very different track record in 2018, and we're looking for a very good track record in 2020. We are able to systematically find coordinated inauthentic behavior and take it down. In 2016, we didn't take any of it down. In 2017, we took down one. We took down 50 on the last year alone.

Now we know that as the systems evolve, people will try to stay ahead of it. So to your point, if more voting is online, if more information is online, we need to stay ahead. We're working very closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, governments around the world, to make sure that as these things change, we're not just protecting against what happened last time but really fighting against what could happen this time. And it is a very top priority for us.

ANDY SERWER: All right, I see earlier this month you took down something. I don't think it pertained to an election, per say. It was just coordinated inauthentic behavior from Russia. You actually were able to label it as such.


ANDY SERWER: And it had to do with just misinformation about different communities and inside the United States, right?

SHERYL SANDBERG: That's right, and we're also very focused on taking down fake accounts. We now take down, you know, over a million a day-- blocked before anyone can see them-- because all of the things that went wrong last time happened under fake accounts. So if you can get to the fake accounts early and often, which we have really invested in doing, you can prevent a lot of the behavior.

ANDY SERWER: Right. And you're working from home right now, Sheryl, right? How are you adjusting, and do you have any advice for people on how to do it? I mean, it's not easy, right?

SHERYL SANDBERG: It's not easy, but I also know that I'm lucky to have a job where I can work from home and a job that I still have. I mean, there are so many people doing so much. There are so many people who really need to work and aren't able to and companies aren't able to pay them. And it goes back to why we did our SMB grant program.

Also, you know, my family is filled with doctors-- my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, my fiance's brother, his wife. You know, we have so many people leaving their homes every day for the front line to protect us. And I think those of us who can stay home have a real-- not just opportunity but responsibility to do it because my sister says to me, I stay home, I protect her. People stay home. We protect the people that have to go. And I think that is really, really important. So sure it's an adjustment, but whatever adjustment it is for those of us who can do it, we have to do it. I think it's a responsibility.

ANDY SERWER: I mean, it takes-- well, you wrote a book about resilience, right?

SHERYL SANDBERG: I did. I wrote a book about resilience.

ANDY SERWER: So are you tapping into that?

SHERYL SANDBERG: I am. I mean, I wrote my book because I had a personal tragedy very different. My husband died very suddenly. And I asked my friend Adam Grant, who is a psych-- psychology professor at Wharton, how much resilience do I have? And he said that's the wrong question. Resilience is not a thing you have a set amount. It's a muscle, and we build it. And we build it in ourselves and we build it in each other. And we build it by knowing that we can hang onto hope, that we can support each other, that we can find things to be grateful for even in the worst of tragedies.

So I remember Adam saying to me when Dave died it could have been way worse. He could have had that same heart attack driving your children. I could have lost all three at once. And that was such a "Oh my god." I was so upset. Obviously, my husband died, but in a moment you tell me I could've lost my kids too? I'm like, oh my god, my kids are alive. I'm great.


SHERYL SANDBERG: There are moments in this tragedy that people can't have that when loved ones are dying, but for a lot of us, the daily challenges we face, there are a lot of moments where we can say, wow, there is so much good I still have. There's so much good I can do. I've taught my kids that one of the things to do when they feel sad and lonely is reach out to someone. Call their grandparents who are quarantining home alone. Reach out and try to make someone else feel better. And those are the moments where I think that bring us together.

ANDY SERWER: And I think you are concerned a little bit about, you know, people spending so much time at home and there are situations where domestic violence may increase just because of that. Is that something you've been thinking about?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. Domestic violence is increasing. We've seen reports, I've seen reports, of up to 30% increase. And that makes sense because people are home. They don't have the outlets they normally have and so look, you know, the people who are the most vulnerable in our society often have the hardest time. And when crises hit, they are almost always hit the hardest. Almost always. So things like domestic violence-- hugely important, huge issue right now.

The wage gap-- this week is equal pay day. Women get paid less. That's a big deal. You have to work, as the average American woman, all the way through 2019 through this week to get paid what the average man worked by making just by working just in 2019. If you're a black woman or Latina, it's even worse. Your equal pay day is months from now. Now that matters every single day, but boy does it matter most-- more now, right? Because you have less savings. You have less ability to earn. And so these problems we have that hit our most vulnerable-- domestic violence, pay gaps. This is a wake up call to fix them. We have to fix them so that when these moments hit, we are better prepared and people are better taken care of.

ANDY SERWER: Sheryl, earlier in your career, you worked at treasury and at the World Bank. And so you know government in Washington, and then you're out there in Silicon Valley right now at a big company. How can business and government work better together to combat this crisis?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, we're gonna have to work together, right? The government needs a swift and thorough and deep response on the health front, on the economic front, and so does business as well. And I think there are a lot of ways we'll work together. You know, the SMB, the loan program that was passed is gonna be administered, obviously, through private companies. We're looking at ways-- at ways we can help. I think you look at the procurement of ventilators, and you see companies jumping in to help.

We took all of our emergency supplies because of the California wildfires-- we actually had masks. We remembered we had masks, and we donate them to local hospitals wherever we are in every city. We had those for a very different purpose because after the wildfires, you know, someone who's smart at Facebook was like we should have emergency masks for the next fire. We gave those out to local hospitals. You know, I think all of us-- that's business cooperating with local government, with local health care providers. We're going to have to do that absolutely across the board. And so many companies and so many people are jumping in.

We also-- we have to think about people's basic needs. So I've been a very active volunteer and fundraiser for the food bank here. You know, 22 million kids in this country rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch. One in eight children in America has food insecurity-- one in three in the Bay Area before this crisis. Most schools-- schools are closing. They're not getting their their lunch. And we already know that kids are hungry on the weekends and the summer, and this could be a protracted period. So, you know, I've been doing a lot of donating and fundraising for the food bank, but I think people are doing that all over. We have to think about not just the crisis in terms of health and the crisis in terms of jobs but the immediate basic needs that people have like food.

ANDY SERWER: Right, yeah, I understand you're doing that with your fiancee, right? So congratulations on that front.


ANDY SERWER: It's great. And just getting back to Washington, though, again for a minute, Sheryl. How is Facebook's relationship with Washington writ large, I mean, both with the White House and then also with various senators and congressmen, et cetera?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, we've had a lot of challenges. So we've had a lot of work to do. And we're working with people. If you look at our relationship with the key congressional and senatorial committees, you know, some of the work we've been able to do around coordinated inauthentic behavior is because those committees have come together. Homeland Security has a task force, the FBI-- I mean, these are moments where we all have to work very closely together. I don't think this is a time for partisanship. I don't think this is a time for people to not work together. This is a time for everyone to work together, no matter what your beliefs are, to get emergency help to people, to get emergency food to people, and to make sure we can keep America as much as possible working and get America and make sure we're OK.

ANDY SERWER: So who do you and Mark communicate with in terms of, say, WHO or NIH or CDC in Washington, Governor Newsom, Sundar Pichai? I mean, are you talking to--

SHERYL SANDBERG: All of the above. Yeah, we've worked very closely with Dr. Tedros at WHO, and he seems to be a remarkable leader, a remarkable leader through this. Mark went live with Governor Newsom yesterday and announced a new fund we're doing to help get more front-line health care workers into the right places in California. Again, this is a time for everyone to work with everyone. Local hospitals, local health care providers, the local governments have also been really, really important in this.

ANDY SERWER: And-- and how are people at Facebook working differently? Most people are working at home. Are you communicating? Do you have new internal groups at Facebook communicating in a different way? How are things changing?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, a lot has changed in that we're all from-- we're all working from home. We aggressively close down every office we could so that the very small number of critical people who have to come in to keep a data center up are protected by very few people working. So we are almost entirely, entirely working from home. You know, on the other hand, we're Facebook, so we are very active users of Facebook groups. Very active users of our enterprise product called Workplace, and we are active video conferencers in the first place. So of course it feels different to be working from home, but I bet you for Facebook it's a little less different than some other companies. And Facebook itself has been-- it's a major tool in how our whole community, for the Facebook employees, stayed-- stay together.

ANDY SERWER: Do you have any-- do you have any metrics you can share in terms of how much more traffic the platforms are getting right now from ordinary people around the world?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, we haven't shared specific metrics, but we have shared that we are seeing an increase in usage. We're seeing an increase in usage in video products and messaging products but also in our feed products. And that makes sense, right? That people are home, people want to communicate. They can't communicate in person, so they're reaching out.

But I think the best things we see are the just visually amazing things on the platform. There's a doctor in Lombardy, Italy, so a very hard hit area, and she's been actually providing free treatment to people through Facebook and through Whatsapp in her area. She, I think, one report said she's up to, like, 70 patients a day where she's helping people on Whatsapp deal with anxiety and depression. Think about that. She's volunteering her services, she's in a really hard hit area, and she's providing a critical need through these platforms.

And as hard as this is, there is-- there are these moments you see so much good and so many people volunteering, so many people trying to help. It's a-- it's a remarkably challenging time, but it's also, in some ways, a time when we can really see what we're made of.

ANDY SERWER: Do you have a coronavirus czar or is that you and-- and Mark?

SHERYL SANDBERG: I think it's Mark.


SHERYL SANDBERG: I mean, the whole company. We're working on it fast and furiously, as much as we can do as quickly as possible. And I'm grateful. I know my employees of Facebook, my employees are home. They've got kids. They've got health concerns. And we've really prioritized telling people we're gonna pay you whether or not you can work, including our contractors. But to the extent people can work, they're working hard, and they're really delivering to put the products people need out there. So I'm super grateful to the men and women of Facebook all over.

ANDY SERWER: And finally, Sheryl, have you-- how do you model this thing out? And-- and what do you see happening here, and are you planning this at Facebook? In other words, we think it's gonna be doing this by June or-- but you're so global, so how do you even begin to look at this?

SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. I mean, of course we're doing modeling. Every business is. But we know those models are based on very, very, very broad assumptions. So we know what we need to do. We need to take our responsibilities seriously for people to get the right information on Facebook. We want to keep providing our products across our platforms where people can connect. And then we want to support our partners. We want to support small business, support news organizations around the world. And we're gonna keep doing that.

I think we also have to realize how quickly the situation is evolving. If you had asked me six weeks ago or even four weeks ago would we all be home, I don't know if I would've said yes, but here we are, right? I don't know when I would have said yes, but we don't know what will happen next, and that means we need to be really nimble. We need to be focused on keeping our services up and making sure people get the right information.

ANDY SERWER: Great. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Thank you so much for talking to us.

SHERYL SANDBERG: Thank you for having me.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching Influencers. I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.