Today, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke to the MIT graduating Class of 2018. In her speech, she spoke about uncertainty and unpredictability — including her own path to business success as well as the recent challenges that Facebook has faced.
She began her speech reflecting on her own time in college and recalled feeling anxious about the uncertainty ahead. “Certainty is one of the great privileges of youth,” she said. “Things won’t always end up as you think but you will gain such valuable lessons along life’s uncertain path.”
Indeed, the past year has been an uncertain time for Sandberg and Facebook. A few of her biggest challenges ahead include addressing concerns of privacy, democracy and freedom of speech.
“Like the generation before us, we have to solve the problems that our technology brings,” she said to the crowd of students, family and faculty. “I believe there are three ways we can deal with these challenges: We can retreat in fear, we can barrel ahead with a single-minded belief in our technology or we can fight like hell to do all the good we can knowing what we build will be used by people, and people are capable of great beauty and great cruelty.”
Sandberg urged students to choose the third option, calling it the choice of “clear-eyed optimists.”
“I am proud of what Facebook has done around the world proud of the connections have been created. Proud of how people use Facebook to organize for democracy for the Women’s March for Black Lives Matter. Proud of how people use Facebook to start and grow businesses and create jobs all around the world,” she said. “But at Facebook, we didn’t see all the risks coming and we didn’t do enough to stop them.”
This oversight, she maintained, originated from a place of naivete. “It’s painful when you miss something,” said Sandberg. “When you make the mistake of believing so much in the good you’re seeing that you don’t see the bad. It’s hard when you know you let people down.”
The COO shared that the hardest moments in her life have provided her most valuable lessons and that Facebook’s recent controversies are no exception.
“When you own your mistakes, you can work harder to correct them and even harder to prevent the next ones — that’s my job now,” she said. “It won’t be easy and it’s not going to be fast, but we will see it through.”