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Sheryl Sandberg Was Always Evil. Your Privilege Made You Love Her.

This week, the New York Times released an explosive report revealing that Facebook hired a far-right consultant group to smear privacy activists. Worse, the consultants used anti-Semitic conspiracy theories connecting the activists to Jewish billionaire and Holocaust survivor George Soros.

Worse still, this anti-Semitic smear-tactic was executed at the behest of Facebook’s Jewish COO Sheryl Sandberg, under a false cover of cooperation with critics.

While these revelations come as a surprise to many, they shouldn’t have.

Sandberg has made a brand for herself selling an amoral corporate outlook as feminist liberation, most significantly through her book “Lean In.” The book and the movement it initiated sell an individualistic view of success that actually upholds corporate power and white supremacy. Instead of challenging them, Sandberg and her acolytes embrace the privileges and power these systems have personally granted them.

As black feminist theorist bell hooks put it in a critique of Lean In, Sandberg’s feminism is built on working within the social and economic status quo, not dismantling it as feminist movements have long demanded.

The abuse of vulnerable communities to ensure one’s own success, happily wielding the status quo’s most violent and harmful tendencies against the most vulnerable, is the signature of the corporate ruthlessness Sandberg has long sold as a form of feminist empowerment.

This week’s revelations are simply proof of what “Lean In” was really all about.

The New York Times report revealed that in 2017, to help with its image, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, a DC based Republican opposition research group that specialized in “applying political campaign tactics to corporate public relations.” Seeking to target a privacy watchdog protest coalition called Freedom from Facebook, Definers tapped into a long standing antisemitic conspiracy that presents Soros, and Jews more broadly, as the all powerful force behind left-wing and racial justice organizing.

According to the Times report, one of the group’s tactics while working for Facebook was to “[press] reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial justice organization.”

It’s Fake News, of course. George Soros’s Open Society Foundation adamantly denies writing any grants for the Freedom From Facebook initiative. And this week, Foundation President Patrick Gaspard wrote a strongly worded letter to Sandberg and other Facebook executives, saying, “These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with… Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy.”

But it’s not just false; it’s racist. The idea that Soros is the puppet-master behind liberal activists is not only an anti-Semitic canard; it’s anti-black, too. In an interview with the Guardian, Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson pointed out the blatant racism of the Soros conspiracy theories. “It’s also deeply anti-black – the idea that our strategies, our ideas, our vision are somehow built off some puppet master,” he said.

Even worse, it’s dangerous. The news came just weeks after a package bomb was sent to the house of George Soros and several democratic politicians by a Trump supporter, an act shortly followed by the worst anti-Semitic terror attack in U.S. history, perpetrated by a shooter obsessed with the idea that Jews were bringing refugees to the United States.

But Facebook didn’t just use anti-Semitism to pursue its aims. It also weaponized accusations of anti-Semitism against activists.

At the same time that they paid Definers Public Affairs to circulate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about their critics, Facebook executives had no problem contacting the Anti-Defamation League to publicly criticize Freedom From Facebook members for their decidedly questionable use of protest signs depicting Sandberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the heads of an octopus. While protesters said the image was meant to reference historic political cartoons critiquing old-time monopolies like Standard Oil, octopus-themed cartoons also have a strong association with the same anti-Semitic tropes that provide the backbone of the George Soros conspiracy theories, sometimes depicting Jews controlling world economies or media.

While these actions appear to be contradictory, in the eyes of Facebook and it’s executives, instrumentalizing both anti-Semitism and the criticism of anti-Semitism to protect it’s image seems to have been par for the course when it comes to their willingness to do anything to protect their bottom line, no matter the cost to society as a whole.

The Times report exposed Facebook’s willingness to not only provide a platform for the racist fascism fueling the Trump Era, but to wield it as a cudgel against the site’s critics.

The Trump Administration has intensified the unbridled growth of corporate power as well as both state and individual violence against women and racial and religious minorities. These are long-standing patterns that can only be defeated with deep and meaningful solidarity between oppressed communities that seeks to dismantle both systematic white supremacy and racial capitalism.

In other words, the exact opposite of the individualist messaging and cut-throat corporatism that Sandberg has long sold as the key to success and personal empowerment.

Facebook under Sandberg’s watch has revealed that it is much closer to Trump in its ideology and practice than the feminism its COO claims to espouse. It’s long past time to reject the false dreams of personal capitalist advancement at all costs sold by Sandberg and her ilk, and instead embrace the vital and longstanding movements for social, racial and economic justice that are propelling real and progressive change in the face of corporate power and fascism. Even with the setbacks and anxiety of the Trump era, we have the power to create a just future for all, and we don’t need the advice of those who profit from our pain to do it.

Rebecca Pierce is an African-American and Jewish filmmaker, photographer and journalist. Her work highlights racial justice issues from the United States to Israeli and Palestine, with a focus on issues affecting African Asylum seekers.

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