Facebook executive coming to GOP’s turf

Facebook executive coming to GOP’s turf
© Getty Images

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg will face questions at a conservative think tank this week over last month’s allegations that the company harbors an anti-conservative bias.

The company says the purpose of her visit is to talk to lawmakers on Capitol Hill about a push by the company into emerging areas like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the recent controversy over allegations that Facebook was playing down conservative news sources and stories looms large over Sandberg’s Wednesday conversation with American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks.

“The first question I’ll ask her is about that conservative meeting, just so she can kind of talk about what they saw going on, how their engineers found the problem [when] they looked into it and kind of the result of that investigation,” Brooks told The Hill. “Kind of what they’re thinking about on their end to make sure that there’s not a trust problem with people in one part of the political distribution.”

It will be Sandberg’s first public appearance in Washington since the company brought prominent conservatives, including Brooks, to its headquarters to soothe their fears about editorial bias on the platform.

Brooks said he is also interested in discussing how Facebook has expanded its business and Sandberg’s best-selling book, “Lean In,” about how women can be successful in the workplace.

“I just want to know about how family works in the new economy,” Brooks added, “how she thinks women in the workforce can think about their role in the new economy.”

Facebook indicated that Sandberg intends to discuss the company’s decadelong business roadmap — which focuses on virtual reality, artificial intelligence and efforts to bring more people online — rather than the Trending Topics controversy or other political questions.

“Sheryl is looking forward to being in Washington this week to talk with policymakers about how we can continue to work together to support innovation,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “She’ll give an update on some of the breakthrough technologies Facebook is working on to make the world more open and connected and the positive impact we believe it will have on the world.”

Sandberg will give lawmakers demos of some of its technology, including the Oculus virtual reality headset, at an event on Thursday afternoon. She will also meet privately with members of both parties in the House and Senate.

She is not scheduled to meet with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer The Memo: Trump 'lynching' firestorm is sign of things to come Senate Republicans block two election security bills MORE (R-S.D.), according to a committee spokesperson. Thune was among the loudest voices in Washington raising questions about the bias allegations when they broke last month.

A spokesperson for AEI said the event with Sandberg was in the works before the story on tech blog Gizmodo first raised the allegations about Facebook excluding conservative media from its trending feature.

Sandberg is no stranger to Washington, having visited on behalf of the company many times before, but the trip this week comes with the company facing political questions on several fronts.

Gizmodo initially reported that editors behind the company’s Trending Topics feature were routinely excluding stories and news sources popular with conservatives. Thune sent CEO Mark Zuckerberg a set of questions about the feature after the report was published.

The company forcefully defended itself. Zuckerberg, board member Peter Thiel and Sandberg met with influential conservatives — including Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE adviser Barry Bennett and former White House press secretary Dana Perino — in an almost 90-minute meeting at the social network’s California headquarters that was aimed at defusing the bias controversy.

Facebook told Thune that although it had found no evidence of systemic bias, it would still make changes to the way it operated the feature.

Sandberg recently had to defend the company’s association with Thiel, who is the financial backer for legal attempts to bankrupt Gawker Media and a delegate for Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee.

Some conservatives have also been suspicious of the company because its workforce is generally believed to lean left. Zuckerberg took a shot at Trump’s hard-line positions on immigration earlier this year, while Sandberg backs presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump 'lynching' firestorm is sign of things to come Hillary Clinton has said she'd consider 2020 race if she thought she could win: report Nielsen on leaving Trump administration: 'Saying no and refusing to do it myself was not going to be enough' MORE and previously worked at the Treasury Department under her husband, President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonCNN: Biden likened Clinton impeachment to 'partisan lynching' in 1998 Trump 'lynching' comparison draws backlash from lawmakers House Democrat pledges 'there will be open hearings' in impeachment inquiry MORE.

Sandberg nonetheless has star power as one of the most outspoken commentators on the challenges women face in the workplace, thanks in part to her book.

When she made her way around Capitol Hill last summer, numerous excited lawmakers posted pictures marking their meetings with the executive.