As you know, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has made herself into something of a feminist thought leader. After teaching women to lean-in and be more assertive on the job, she moved on to her anti-bossy and anti-sorry campaigns.
She launched a campaign to ban the word “bossy” from everyone’s vocabulary, especially as that word had been used to demean women.
Sensing that women use the word “sorry” too often, she declared that women should be less sorry.
One suspects that Sandberg has some serious interest in mind control… especially if she is the one controlling the minds of other people.
In the meantime, a couple of weeks ago the world discovered that Facebook had been trying to manipulate the emotions of its users. Hmmm. Many people took serious offense. An apology was required.
Who better to offer it than a sorry Sheryl Sandberg.
Of course, there are apologies and there are apologies. In particular, there are sincere and insincere apologies. There are apologies that take responsibility and apologies that shift the blame.
The Tech Times reported on the hubbub:
Controversy continues to surround Facebook's psychological experiment with news feeds that was implemented to determine what types of news contents get the most likes and traction in the social network. The reporting in recent days on the topic has led to a backlash against Facebook, which led to the company's Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg to speak out about the "poorly communicated" endeavor, but she didn't go as far as to apologize to users, which has led to increased scrutiny of the company.
The 2012 "mood manipulation" study included some 700,000 unsuspecting users that saw Facebook change their news feeds in order to understand what people were liking and sharing with others. While Sandberg said she was disappointed in how Facebook went about the endeavor, she failed to deliver an apology, saying instead that this is what companies are doing currently and she sees nothing wrong with it, just the communication with users.
"This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated," Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, told the Wall Street Journal while travelling in New Delhi. "And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you."
Writing in the Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway declared that Sandberg flunked her apology test. Perhaps Sandberg had a point when she said that women should say that they are sorry less often.
Kellaway succinctly summarized the problem:
Last week Sheryl Sandberg gave us a perfect lesson in how not to apologise. The Facebook executive declared that the experiment that manipulated the emotions of the website’s users had been “poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologise. We never meant to upset you.”
This was bad on four scores. She didn’t take personal responsibility. She didn’t say sorry for the thing itself. Her “didn’t mean to upset you” was patronising, and worse than that, a lie. The experiment was specifically designed to upset some users, by showing them negative comments. That was the whole point.
Rather than spend her time telling women to stop saying that they are sorry, Sandberg should learn how to take responsibility without condescending, that is, without shifting the blame. More importantly, she should have known how to apologize without excusing herself by saying that it was not her intention to “upset” anyone.
As Kellaway says, upsetting people was precisely the intention. Besides, the word “upset” is also patronizing.
If you offer a sincere apology you will say that you are responsible for having caused pain, regardless of your intentions. Facebook is responsible for its corporate behavior. It did not matter what it meant.