Sheryl Sandberg gave an unconvincing speech about privacy just when she needed to sound sincere

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sheryl sandbergFacebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.Reuters

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave a speech in Munich on Sunday stating that Facebook needed to do better in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • Sandberg outlined the steps Facebook was taking to earn back users' trust.
  • But audience members criticized her message as over-rehearsed and too polished to be convincing.
  • Sandberg will need to work harder to convince European regulators that Facebook has changed if the company is to avoid punitive regulations and fines.

One of the first rhetorical tricks a public speaker will pick up is repetition.

Theoretically, repetition is a way of ensuring your message really lands. It's a way of persuading your audience into your way of thinking.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg tried to leverage the power of repetition at a speech in Germany on Sunday but, at a crucial time for her company in Europe, it seems to have backfired.

Sandberg appeared at the DLD conference in Munich on Sunday, a kind of warm-up conference for the digital elite before the World Economic Forum in Davos. She also gave an interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

In a continuation of the Facebook apology tour, Sandberg touched on Facebook's many missteps in 2018, and on other familiar themes in a speech titled: "What kind of internet do we want?"

"At Facebook, these last few years have been difficult," she told the Munich audience. "We need to stop abuse more quickly and we need to do better to protect people's data. We have acknowledged our mistakes."

Sandberg praised Europe's aggressive stance on privacy and announced that Facebook would be funding an AI ethics institute at a German university.

"We know we need to do better," she said, adding that the company was trying to win back users' trust.

If this sounds familiar, it's because she said "we need to do better" in April, June, and in September's Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeated the phrase through 2018 too.

Jack Dorsey Sheryl Sandberg Twitter Facebook SenateWASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 5: (L-R) Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey are sworn-in for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations' use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg faced questions about how foreign operatives use their platforms in attempts to influence and manipulate public opinion. (Photo by )Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sandberg went on: "I, and everyone at Facebook, accept the deep responsibility we have to protect the people who use our services. We know we need to get better at anticipating all of the risks that come with connecting so many people."

But those listening to the speech didn't buy the message.

"After a written interview with @FAZnet and this memorized talk, they missed a huge chance to regain trust. It's time for real conversation & dialogue," wrote digital strategist Daniel Fiene.

Another user wrote: "Amazing to see how they have upgraded Sophia the robot to look and talk like Sheryl Sandberg."

Yet another wrote: "Sheryl Sandberg did a sugarcoated [speech], thanking Germany and praising Data Protection. Why can I not believe and trust these promises? Maybe because I cannot forget the active selling & manipulation of Data, she did not mention."

Read more: Sheryl Sandberg is on the hot seat at Facebook - but ousting her alone wouldn't solve its problems

And users criticized the Facebook exec for not taking questions. "I don't agree w/ [Sheryl Sandberg]. #Trustbuilding is not presenting a perfectly read out but distanced speech. Trustbuilding would have been to be authentic and to agree on a Q&A session."
Sandberg should be alarmed by this indication of the temperature in Europe. Germany has been the most aggressive country in regulating Facebook, and is reportedly about to clamp down on the kinds of information the firm can collect. It is one of the most privacy-conscious nations in Europe, and played a key role in the introduction of GDPR, Europe's strict new privacy regulation.

Should Sandberg fail on this trip to convince German regulators and world leaders attending Davos that Facebook can clean up its act, the firm may face stricter rules and fines at home and abroad.

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