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Facebook's next policy chief will inherit a company under siege

Facebook logo and "like" thumbs up icon on a cracked phone screen
Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

The departure of Facebook’s policy and communications czar, Elliot Schrage, comes as the company navigates a difficult period marked by scandals over foreign election meddling and consumer data privacy.

Why it matters: Policy and communications are exactly the areas where Facebook has needed the most help throughout its recent controversies, and the company's choice of new leadership there will provide clues to how it intends to move forward.

What they’re saying: A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that Schrage “first raised wanting to leave long before the election — after the election Mark [Zuckerberg] and Sheryl [Sandberg] asked him to stay on, which he agreed to do” and that he has “decided it’s time to start a new chapter in his life.”

Schrage's replacement will take charge of the social network’s efforts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, including an already active public campaign to repair the company's image. Recently, Facebook has been running online ads focused on how it fights misinformation. It has also turned to television spots, an uncommon move for the internet giant.

What we’re hearing:

  • Rachel Whetstone, a former Google and Uber executive who Facebook just promoted to lead corporate communications, is seen as a leading candidate to take over Schrage’s job, or at least to gain more authority following his departure, according to multiple sources.
  • Schrage will help find his replacement in a search that will include outside candidates.

The bigger picture: Whetstone’s recent rise could be a function of the company's persistent troubles with the government and the public.

  • "She’s less necessary when you have fewer problems," said a source who has worked with both Whetstone and Schrage. "She’s the person you kind of want guiding you through crisis."
  • The source added that Whetstone is "very good at seeing how a company is viewed by the outside world, and not kind of drinking company Kool-Aid."

Whetstone's possible ascent has some on the company's communications team uneasy, multiple sources said, given that her start at Uber was followed by the departure of multiple longtime staffers. But she is also credited with decisiveness, and that could be something Facebook prizes as it navigates new crises.

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