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Facebook’s top PR exec is leaving

After a bruising year for the social media giant, longtime communications head Caryn Marooney is helping search for her replacement.

Departing Facebook PR head Caryn Marooney with her soon-to-be ex boss Mark Zuckerberg.
Departing Facebook PR head Caryn Marooney with her soon-to-be-ex boss Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook’s top communications executive, Caryn Marooney, is leaving the social media giant after eight years. Her departure comes after a year in which Facebook has found itself in the crosshairs of, well, pretty much everybody, from the media to government to consumers, as it faced a range of vexing controversies. That has included the use of the platform by the Russians to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Yeah, that.

Why should you care about a PR person leaving? Because Facebook needs all the experienced communications hands it can get these days — along with the Russian malfeasance, it also has faced intense criticism over data snafus, hacking, the spread of disinformation, deaths in India and elsewhere due to sloppy management of the platform, and controversies over privacy, including a recent incident with Apple.

In her job running global communications for Facebook, Marooney’s purview has encompassed its most critical products, including the flagship Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, as well as its AR and VR efforts. She is also the closest PR executive to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, having worked for Facebook as an outside consultant for three years before she was hired.

While a lot of leave-takings at Facebook of late have been linked to its troubles, the Marooney departure seems sanguine in comparison. She will stay at the company until a replacement is found and has not gotten publicly dragged into its most toxic messes.

There has been some significant turnover in the communications unit at Facebook recently. The head of policy and comms, Elliot Schrage, announced he was leaving last year and was replaced by Nick Clegg, who was deputy prime minister of the UK. Schrage is still in the building at Facebook, however, working on “special projects,” including working with local Bay Area officials as Facebook expands its massive Menlo Park headquarters.

Clegg now oversees Marooney, as well as policy head (and Justice Brett Kavanaugh BFF) Joel Kaplan. Another top communications exec, Rachel Whetstone, also recently decamped to Netflix. And still another, Debbie Frost, Facebook’s longest-serving PR exec who leads global communications and public affairs (think: election integrity efforts) also told colleagues she was leaving a few weeks ago.

“I am sad that Caryn has decided to leave the comms leader role — though I understand her wish to seek out new adventures after so many years of commitment and hard work at Facebook,” said Clegg in a statement. “Caryn inspires great loyalty in the communications team she has led so brilliantly, through good times and bad.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who has seen her fair share of ire directed at the company, also struck a cordial tone about the departure: “From when we were a startup to where we are today, Caryn has been an intelligent, consistent, and thoughtful leader. Mark and I are so grateful for everything she has done for Facebook.”

Ever the PR person, Marooney was diplomatic in her departure memo to staff, which read in part:

”What makes this so hard is that I have more faith in Facebook than ever. When I started working with Facebook in 2008 (I was still running OutCast), Facebook had 40m people using the service and was only available in the U.S. When I moved in-house 8 years ago, Facebook was just a website. So much has changed — we are now Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, AR/VR, Portal — with global data centers and amazing technology and engineering. But so much has stayed the same — there is so much good happening on Facebook and the entire family of apps every day. And for our challenges — we have plans in place and the right people working on them. I can absolutely say that we’re more determined than ever.”

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