Business & Tech

Facebook’s Sandberg unveils worker-training initiative at event with Mayor Walsh

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, spoke Friday at an event during the United States Conference of Mayors.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, spoke Friday at an event during the United States Conference of Mayors.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, said Friday at an event with Mayor Martin J. Walsh that the social networking company will seek to train 1 million people and small business owners over the next two years.

“When people get the opportunity to get the training they need, they can get great jobs,” Sandberg said at the US Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Boston.

The pledge comes as Facebook seeks to rebuild its image following the revelation that it allowed the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica to collect information from as many as 87 million Facebook users, which was used to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

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On Thursday, Facebook acknowledged another privacy breakdown, disclosing that as many as 14 million users worldwide had their privacy settings inadvertently switched to public during a four-day period last month. The company blamed the problem on a bug.

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The New York Times reported this week that Facebook also shared data with four Chinese electronics firms, including one flagged by the United States as a national security threat.

Sandberg alluded to the controversies at the mayors’ conference.

“It’s not enough to be sorry,” she said, adding that Facebook, which had been focused on the benefits of social media, has been working hard to ensure that it tackles problems like the spread of “fake news” and data interference.

“We know that it’s not just about technology,” Sandberg said, sitting on stage with Walsh, Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., and Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston. “It’s about people . . . and people are capable of immense beauty and people are capable of real harm.”

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Ultimately, Sandberg said, “We need to make sure our tools are used for good.”

As part of that goal, Facebook officials said, the company is committed to helping workers flourish in an increasingly digital economy.

The company cited a prediction that a shortage of skilled labor in the United States could create 85.2 million unfilled jobs by 2030.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke on a panel Friday.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke on a panel Friday.

To help close the gap, Facebook says it will expand its in-person training program, called Facebook Community Boost, from about 30 locations to 50 nationwide and work with education institutions to provide free training in digital marketing, coding, and other areas. The effort will involve a mix of online courses and curriculum support, Facebook officials said.

Facebook said Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and Roxbury Community College will be among 20 community colleges across the country that will expand their training programs with the company’s help.

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Karen M. Norton, a Bunker Hill spokeswoman, said the college will launch a digital marketing program with Facebook’s support. Facebook launched a similar initiative with Central New Mexico Community College in April, helping the college offer a new digital marketing certificate.

“We are very excited about it,” Norton said. “It’s a new field that’s in-demand and, with Facebook behind it, it’s a good opportunity for our students to learn from them.”

Norton said, however, it’s not clear how much Facebook plans to spend on the program or what the partnership will entail. “It’s really in the initial stages at this point,” she said.

Facebook’s focus on worker training comes as users’ trust in the company has fallen by 66 percent since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to an April survey by the Ponemon Institute, a private research center focused on internet privacy and data protection.

Earlier Friday, Sandberg told MIT’s Class of 2018 that “technology needs a human heartbeat” to solve the world’s greatest challenges.

She acknowledged during her commencement speech that while technology has given immense power to people who do good, it has also empowered many with harmful intentions.

Sandberg advised graduates to approach this dilemma as “clear-eyed optimists” and to recognize that “building technology that supports equality, democracy, truth, and kindness means looking around corners, and throwing up every possible roadblock against hate and violence and deception.”

Correspondent Sophia Eppolito contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.