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Facebook says it’s 'playing catch-up' on Russia and the election

Sheryl Sandberg, the social network's COO, talks about the election and the #MeToo movement at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was interviewed by journalist Kara Swisher at the Lesbians Who Tech conference in San Francisco. 

Richard Nieva/CNET

Facebook was caught off guard when Russian trolls abused its platform during the 2016 US presidential election. On Friday, Sheryl Sandberg, the company's high-profile chief operating officer, said the social network is doing all it can to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the future.

"Things happened in the last election that were unacceptable -- that we were not prepared for," Sandberg said at the Lesbians Who Tech conference in San Francisco. "We're definitely playing catch-up, and we acknowledge that. But we are working hard to get ahead and stay ahead."

The "unacceptable" things she's talking about were Russia's attempts to meddle in the election by spreading false and divisive content on Facebook, through a combination of paid ads and organic posts. They also took to Twitter and to Google to try to interfere and sow discord among Americans.

Since then, Facebook has said it's stepping up its efforts in "election integrity," including by beefing up its security team to 20,000 workers by the end of this year.

The controversy isn't going away. Last November, Congress grilled Facebook, Google and Twitter during a public hearing on Capitol Hill. More recently, Facebook has faced questions about how much the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns paid Facebook for its election ads. Earlier this week, Andrew Bosworth, a veteran Facebook executive who used to run its ads department, shared data that said Trump's campaign paid more.

On Friday, Sandberg also touched on the issues of gender and diversity in the tech industry, as well as on the #MeToo movement.

She said one of the backlashes against the #MeToo movement has been that men are less willing to take a meeting, have dinner or travel with women colleagues who rank lower than them on the corporate totem pole.

"We need a world where women don't get sexually harassed. Full stop," Sandberg said.

"It is not enough not to harass us," she added, to loud applause from the audience. "Access needs to be equal." She made similar comments earlier this week to a crowd of mostly men at a Morgan Stanley conference.

Sandberg's remarks come at a time when Silicon Valley is in the hot seat over gender and diversity. The biggest companies in the tech industry have been criticized for their treatment of women and other marginalized groups. A fired Google engineer, who's transgender and disabled, filed a lawsuit against the company earlier this month. He alleges he was wrongfully terminated for fighting back against sexism and racism. Uber replaced its founder, Travis Kalanick, as CEO last year after a long list of controversies, including the treatment of women at the company.

Sandberg, author of the best-selling book "Lean In," has been a public champion of women's rights for a number of years. Still, there's a lot of work to do at Facebook when it comes to diversity. That company specifically is 65 percent male and 49 percent white.

Sandberg said Facebook is trying to improve. "Sometimes we take a step forward; sometimes we take a step back."

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