New Delhi: In an exclusive interview, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks to NDTV's Shweta Rajpal Kohli about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the growth of Facebook in India, the controversial emotions study, its $19 billion WhatApp buyout and how women executives should not be labelled aggressive and bossy.
Following is the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: She is clearly one of the most successful and powerful women executives in the world, a best-selling author, an activist, and a young billionaire. It's such a pleasure to have with us Sheryl Sandberg, COO of the world's largest social networking site, Facebook. Sheryl thanks so much for sparing time to talk to us here on NDTV.
Sheryl Sandberg: Thank you for having me
NDTV: This is clearly not your first visit to India, you actually worked here; you started your career in India with the World Bank working on leprosy. India has changed a lot over the years.
Sheryl Sandberg: India has. I worked here from '91, 1991 till 1993, and the growth of the economy, what's happened around technology around the world, how important India is to the global economy, has definitely changed, and it's a pretty exciting thing to see.
Sheryl Sandberg: I think it should, because while it is the second largest in terms of the United States, there are still a billion people in India who have not yet connected to the Internet, and who will connect. And so what we see here is a really vibrant economy, very active Facebook users and really almost endless opportunity to grow.
Sheryl Sandberg: We'll see, I think it depends how quickly more people get access, and that's actually one of the things we're working on. We have a global partnership called internet.org, where we're very focused on helping bring the next billion people in India, as well as other billions around the world, online.
NDTV: All right, let's talk about your India visit, and we're hoping that you're also going to be seeing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, someone who's absolutely social media savvy, the way that Facebook was used during elections, is absolutely unprecedented. Tell us a little more about your meeting with Prime Minister Modi.
Sheryl Sandberg: So we thought it was really exciting what happened in the recent election in India. Prime Minister Modi has over 18 million Facebook friends, and he is now the second most popular politician in the entire world. And some of his posts -- my personal favourite were seeking blessings from his mother with that incredible picture or his swearing0in picture. What we're excited about is that he, along with politicians all over the world, are understanding that this is an opportunity to speak directly to your constituents. This is how you can have not just a one-way dialogue with the people who are voting for you, but a two-way dialogue, where you can share and listen, speak and hear: it's pretty exciting.
NDTV: And what's interesting is that he's actually made sure that his cabinet colleagues are using social media as well. It was almost a diktat given out, saying that yes, you need to be using social media, you need to interact with users, is that an absolutely interesting development for a company like yours?
Sheryl Sandberg: Oh, it's fantastic. I heard that he asked his Finance Minister to go on Facebook and talk about the plans to grow the economy, which I know is a huge issue here, and around the world. We think that matters. We think people want to hear from the people who are making decisions that affect their lives directly, and they want to do it in a way that they can interact. And so we are excited about the use of Facebook.
NDTV: Right, but besides this of course, what's your wish list in terms of policy changes you would like India to make; when you meet Prime Minister Modi, one of the couple of things you are hoping to tell him, things that make it easier for Facebook to do business in India?
Sheryl Sandberg: Well, what we say anywhere in the world where we're investing is that the right public policies, is governments that understand economic growth, and governments that are making investments in the free and open internet, that's where companies like ours are going to invest. And India is not just a promising market for us, but it's one of our four global operations centers, because this is a great place to hire people, a great place for the thriving democracy, that can contribute not just to our business here, but to our business all over the world.
NDTV: So in terms of policy requests, we know that Governments around the world right now are facing huge issues with offensive posts, take down requests. Especially with the previous Government, Facebook had a number of run-ins, not just Facebook, other internet sites as well, in terms of the number of take down requests you get from a Government for offensive posts, and the reasons in most cases are very genuine. Just last month, we had a very terrible incident of a 28-year old man beaten to death in one of our cities, Pune, because of an offensive Facebook post. How's Facebook dealing with such issues, this is bound to come up in your meeting?
Sheryl Sandberg: We do strike a balance between free expression, which is the fundamental of what we allow people to do, express themselves, but also providing a safe and protected community. Our hearts go out to anyone who faces any form of violence anywhere in the world, and there's no tolerance, and no place for violence or inciting violence anywhere on Facebook. And we take that responsibility very seriously.
NDTV: But at the same time India is among the top countries when it comes to the number of take down requests you get, removing those offensive posts from sites like Facebook, is that a concern you're likely to bring up?
Sheryl Sandberg: So, our goal is to be very transparent with people around the world. We publish a transparency report saying this is how many requests we get, when we get a request from any Government, the first thing we do is look very carefully at that request. There are requests, which are very legitimate and we comply. There are cases where we'll work very closely with law enforcement, and there are cases where we'll push back and say, we don't think that's appropriate.
NDTV: All right, so it has to be a balance out there. I have to talk to you about monetisation, the fact that India may have the second largest number of users, but when it comes to revenues, you're clearly not making much progress there, and probably part of your visit is to also ensure that you start monetising that user-base. India gets you users it doesn't get you revenues. How do you intend to deal with that?
Sheryl Sandberg: I think India will get us both, I spent Monday in Hyderabad, meeting with some small businesses from around India, who were using Facebook to grow their businesses, one by one, employing people, really exciting. And I spent yesterday in Gurgaon meeting with some of the largest Indian companies and global companies who are using Facebook to reach consumers, I think marketers are understanding that they need to speak to consumers where those consumers are, and in India, like everywhere in the world, people are increasingly on their mobile phones.
Sheryl Sandberg: The average Indian with a mobile phone spends three hours a day, and less time doing almost anything else. It's a great opportunity for the largest companies in the world, and the smallest market, and we believe that will grow our business.
NDTV: All right, so clearly some revenues need to flow in, especially given some of the high-priced acquisitions that Facebook has been making. But let me move on, I have to talk to you about a huge controversy that's clearly making global headlines right now. The experiment that Facebook conducted, which many are even terming as a Facebook fiasco in many ways, the fact that Facebook manipulated users' feeds to actually generate emotions. Seven hundred thousand users and their feeds were manipulated, in fact the United Kingdom says that they will probe, and their data protection laws are looking into this.
Sheryl Sandberg: So we clearly communicated really badly about this, and that we really regret. We do research in an ongoing way in a very privacy protective way to improve our service, and this was done with that goal. I think we are in communication with regulators all over the world and this will be okay, and we will continue to make sure users understand that we care about their privacy, we care about their experience, and we want to do everything we can to give them the best experience they can have.
NDTV: At the same time, manipulating users' emotions is something that's obviously got privacy activists up in arms. And as a user you worry, you worry the privacy concerns that you're talking about, when you go on Facebook, you don't necessarily want to know that perhaps your emotions are being manipulated by the company
Sheryl Sandberg: So we take privacy really seriously, we want to give people knowledge, be very direct about what we're doing. We want to give people control, so that you choose to share, and you choose to delete if you want. And we want to be transparent, so that people know what we're doing, and we're going to continue to focus on those things globally.
NDTV: Will Facebook probably look at apologising to users for the fact that they went ahead with an experiment without informing them, the fact that this is something which has hurt all those millions of users around the globe?
Sheryl Sandberg: So Facebook has apologised, and certainly never wants to do anything that upsets users, particularly for communicating really badly in this case.
NDTV: So was this experiment in many ways a mistake?
Sheryl Sandberg: This was one week, and it was a small experiment. It has been communicated as an experiment to shift emotions. It's not exactly what it was. It was an experiment in showing people different things, to see how it worked. And again, what really matters here, what really matters is that we take people's privacy incredibly seriously and we will continue to do that and give people control and a great experience.
NDTV: But the larger worry is then is that Facebook can actually control people's emotions. Can Facebook swing elections? Will Mark Zuckerberg decide the future of a country? Can you swing elections?
Sheryl Sandberg: Let me be clear, Facebook can't control emotions, and cannot and will not try to control emotions. Facebook tries to give people the best possible experience. Facebook would never try to control elections. When you go on Facebook, what you see is from your friends, and what they're sharing, and what they see is from you, and we work hard to help people share what they want to share, to help them do it in a privacy-protected way, so that people can share and connect to each other, and that's really our mission.
NDTV: At the same time the results of this study were fascinating. The fact that if you are actually showing more negative emotions you end up posting more negative feeds, So the results have been almost worrisome. Some have called them spooky.
Sheryl Sandberg: I'm not a great social science teacher. But we all know we react to things we see and that leads to some of the best things that have happened on Facebook. So for example, there was an Indian man, and he saw on Facebook that a friend of his needed a blood donation for his father. He posted on Facebook, and he got it really quickly. He then set up eight Facebook groups, which were eight different blood types to help donation. This led to the founding of socialblood.org, which is the largest volunteer donor base in the world, that came from here, from India, from seeing what people are doing; so we know we're impacted by what people share, and we want to continue to help people do that, to create good in the world.
NDTV: Sheryl we know that there are fascinating stories impacting life, obviously it is the negative stories that make bigger headlines and experiments like these that end up making bigger headlines. But I'd like to talk to you largely how companies like Facebook, tech giants, are actually dealing with regulators around the world, to deal with somebody's privacy issues, to deal with data protections. Just last week there has been a European ruling that has actually got Google to ensure that the right to be forgotten is complied with, which means the user has a right to be forgotten. If I don't want certain posts to be seen online that should be complied with. What's Facebook view on right to be forgotten?
Sheryl Sandberg: We are in legal compliance with all the laws and regulations here, and everywhere we do business in the world, including with the EU Right To Be Forgotten. On Facebook you can put up a post and delete it, you have control. What matters for people using Facebook or any product is that they have control, and they are able to understand it. And so privacy is the cornerstone of our business. You know if I wanted to take a picture of the two of us doing this interview, I could share it with just my Mom, or given that it's going to be on TV, I could share it with the whole world, or if I wanted to I could share it just with the people on Facebook. But I make that choice, and I make that choice every time I post, and what we will continue to do is give people great tools so that they can share what they want with who they want to share.
NDTV: All right. That's a very interesting point, which you made but what about when you don't have that choice? For instance, Facebook on its own doing things where the users don't have the choice, I'm sorry to bring up the experiment once again, but that's the time when you don't have that choice or when others were posting certain objectionable content. And those are worries when users don't have the choice.
Sheryl Sandberg: So if a friend posts something we encourage people to socially report, and ask people to take it down, if people post something that people have problems with, we have teams all over the world to deal with that. Importantly we have something that is really very important, which is real identity. On Facebook, people are posting things with their real names.
NDTV: And fake profiles are a big worry for you
Sheryl Sandberg: And we work really hard to minimize those, and we have very small amounts of fake profiles. But this really matters, so we've seen news organisations who will have a lot of anonymous posts, some of those can be quite cool, and some of them have gone to making all their posts with Facebook identities, so that means your real name and your real picture. And all of a sudden the posts get way more responsible, and way more respectful. We believe if people are sharing as themselves, and its public what they're doing, that that's a lot of reason to behave appropriately, and when that doesn't work we have a very big commitment to keeping people private and safe.
NDTV: Absolutely, and as someone who handles communications, public policy perhaps one of the biggest challenges that company like yours will be facing in months and years to come is ensuring the users are comfortable, that they feel safe, that their data is private. Do you see that as one of your biggest challenges?
Sheryl Sandberg: It's really important because with any emerging technology there's always fear. There was fear when the car was invented, there was fear when the phone came out, and it's up to us to make sure people understand it, and we work really hard at this. So we have been actually sending people, who use Facebook, notes if they're posting something that's public. We send them a little post, saying this is public, are you sure you want to, reminding them how they're posting. Over the years we worked hard to make it very explicit. Right now when you post on Facebook, there's a little icon, globe, for world, friends, and so you can see it right there, whom you're sharing with, and how you're sharing.
NDTV: And of course like many users around the world, parents are extremely worried about teenagers spending way more time on Facebook that they should. What would you like to say to all those parents who are extremely worried about the hours that are spent on Facebook?
Sheryl Sandberg: Well as a parent myself I think worry is part of the job. We worry about our kids, what they do, what they say, what they eat, all of that stuff. But, I think Facebook can be really important. We see schools using Facebook to communicate. We see students using Facebook to collaborate. We see volunteers' efforts. I met a group of students from all over the world who were in Udaipur this weekend and a lot of them were communicating on Facebook, partially about their trip to come here and volunteer to help build a school. And so like anything out there, there can be good uses, there can be bad uses, and as parents we want to teach our kids to do the good uses.
NDTV:And that's parental responsibility. There's little that Facebook ... you'd want them to use it more, right?
Sheryl Sandberg: We want them to use it responsible, we're very clear on this. We take our responsibility, particularly with children, but with everyone, very seriously. We want everyone to use Facebook responsibly, and we hope it can make the world a little more personal, a little smaller, and a little bit better.
NDTV: It's been an absolutely fantastic idea that many believe has been a game changer for the world. Facebook and the innovations it's proud about, but what next? Many people worry about whether there's been lack of innovation coming from many technology giants. What next for Facebook?
Sheryl Sandberg: So we've just made a pretty big shift, going from a desktop company to a mobile company, we're now the most used mobile app on almost any platform, almost any where in the world, certainly in India our usage dwarfs any other, as it does in the United States. What's next? More sharing, more people connected. There are a billion people in India who are not yet connected to the Internet.
NDTV: But that doesn't bring in any of the innovation bit that we are talking about. We don't see many of the innovations coming your way. Will acquisitions be your way forward?
Sheryl Sandberg: We have done a lot of innovations in India that we now export globally around feature phone use. A lot of people who get first phones get features phones and making our products working on feature phones wasn't really something that we were able to do even a few years ago. And so we have really innovated to make that work
NDTV: Right. But jumping onto the so-called mobile bandwagon. It's something that Facebook has done very late. In fact it's something that Mark Zuckerberg mentioned in the past. It's been bit of a mistake, a bit of disappointment. Would you agree with that? You should have seen the mobile opportunity way earlier.
Sheryl Sandberg: Well Mark has said that had we been started as a company 10 years ago, even a few years later, we would have started this mobile company. We are started as a desktop company and so we really had a transition. We had to re-train all our engineers to do mobile programming. And actually transition was hard and we did see it coming late. But I think we are fully there. Our products on mobile, our products on mobile first, we build mobile first and I think that's really explaining the growth foreseen in India and everywhere around the world.
NDTV: But a Facebook phone, the Facebook home experiment many believe that is the project you shelved altogether.
Sheryl Sandberg: So we will keep iterating and keep experimenting and actually there were parts of what we launched that are getting integrated into the product.
NDTV: You have to talk about the mega WhatsApp acquisition, 19 billion dollars for a company like that. Many people say you have overpaid. Some have even called the move desperate. How would you react to that?
Sheryl Sandberg: Real time messaging is really important and Whatsapp is one of the very few companies in the world that were on a path to a billion users. Even since the acquisition they've hit over half a billion users. They are hugely important here, everywhere in the world. We're excited to work with them. We think itis very nice all what we do.
NDTV: But what about all those analysts who say 19 billion dollars was a bit much?
Sheryl Sandberg: I think we'll prove them wrong. It's just going to take some time.
NDTV: All right, you are going to prove them wrong. That's interesting to know. I have to ask you something that one of our viewers has actually asked me, we've been inviting questions from our viewers. We've chosen one question which many people want to know, this question comes from Gitsen Samuel who asked, 'will Facebook ever introduce a dislike feature?'
Sheryl Sandberg: We continue to experiment but we feel that a like feature enables people to show the support and there is also commenting. Right, you can express what you want to express, as long as it is appropriate, on Facebook because you can comment however you want
NDTV: But dislike isn't coming any time soon. Let's talk now about Lean In, your book, which has clearly made a lot of waves, the fact that you are encouraging more women to come into the workforce.
Sheryl Sandberg: So I have been really blown away by the reaction to Lean In. But that's because women really want to have full lives, just like men. We tell men all over the world that they can work and have children and we tell women they can't, which is absurd since most women do work. It's just that they have to support their families. You look at the happiness of the families, its better when people share their responsibilities and you look at opportunities for our children. I have a son and a daughter. I want them to have equal opportunities, both professionally and at home. And right now my son has more opportunities in the work place and my daughter has more opportunities at home. And I think we are going to change that everywhere in the world, because we have to.
NDTV: It's important to mention that, especially as you have talked about stereotypes. I heard you talk in Davos last year, when you mentioned the kind of stereotype we all perpetuate, the fact that woman at the work place are instantly branded as bossy, aggressive and men are termed as results-oriented, focused. It's important that you've touched upon these issues. You're trying to actually show that we don't perpetuate these stereotypes.
Sheryl Sandberg: Yes, it's so interesting, cultures are so different around the world, except on gender. For everywhere in the world I ask audiences, if you are a man please raise your hand if you have been told you are aggressive at work. You saw that in Davos, no hands. If you are a woman, please raise your hand if you have been told you are aggressive, I did it yesterday here, every hand goes up. What we know actually is that men are more aggressive than women and this is about expectations. And we have to stop calling them bossy and instead we have to call them, that little girl, she has executive leadership skills. I think we suffer from a tyranny of low expectations. We think its okay. In the United States, in the last election, women got 20 per cent of the US Senate seats, the Upper House. And all the newspapers said, 'Women take over Senate, women take over Senate.' 5 per cent of the population with 20 per cent of seats is not a takeover. It's a problem. And we need to expect that we are going to get 50%, however we do it, everywhere in the world.
NDTV: Right. So, is America getting its first woman president? Are you asking Hillary Clinton to Lean In?
Sheryl Sandberg: I hope America will get its first woman president. One of the reasons I wrote Lean In is my daughter learned the names in a song, when she was 4, of all the American presidents. And her first question was "Mommy why are there only boys"?
Sheryl Sandberg: India had a female president and a female Prime Minister, which is fantastic. But there are now 18 female Heads of State in the world, there are hundreds of countries. So my little daughter and little girls around the world are still wondering if that's for them
NDTV: All right, the question of course is will Sheryl Sandberg Lean In herself? Are we going to see you joining politics one day?
Sheryl Sandberg: I am doing a lot of Leaning, this is all the leaning I can do. But I really believe, what Facebook does around the world, I really believe Lean In can do. And the power of woman and man coming together in circles and I really feel good about it and I continue to do it.
NDTV: All right. All the very best Sheryl Sandberg over your visit in India for Facebook and you, thank you so much. Such a pleasure to talk to you.
Sheryl Sandberg: Thank you so much.