Facebook has hired Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, to head its global affairs and communications team as it faces escalating problems over data protection and the threat of greater government regulation.
He agreed to take on the job after months of wooing by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who told Sir Nick he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said Sir Nick was a “thoughtful and gifted leader” who “understands deeply the responsibilities we have to people who use our service around the world”.
She also acknowledged the need for Facebook to bring in new blood to help it manage its many issues. “Our company is on a critical journey. The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us through this time of change.”
Sir Nick is the most senior addition to Facebook’s tight-knit leadership team from outside the company’s own top ranks since 2014, when former PayPal president David Marcus was recruited to run Messenger.
The decision by Facebook to hire Sir Nick, a former European Commission trade negotiator and member of the European Parliament, suggests the company is trying to boost its connections in Brussels, where Facebook is facing escalating battles over data privacy, online disinformation and hate speech.
Vera Jourova, EU justice commissioner, in charge of data protection and electoral integrity, said last year that she deleted her Facebook account, because the site had become a “highway for hatred”.
My emphasis. We’ll see exactly what influence Clegg actually has. His last negotiation was with Cameron and the subsequent electoral wipeout of the LibDems suggests that didn’t go too well. And Zuckerberg would wipe the floor with that dilettante.
It is extremely unlikely Clegg can persuade Zuckerberg to appear before the Commons select committee. There are lots of countries and it would set a difficult precedent that Zuckerberg cared about any of them apart from the US.
Where Clegg really could make an immediate, meaningful difference is by saying “At Facebook we only see a small picture of foreign influence in the UK’s affairs but it is enough for us to call for the UK to launch a full public enquiry – a Mueller style investigation into foreign meddling. We will support this investigation in every way possible as the UK’s democracy is under attack.” Yes, I’m sure he’ll say that. Before Christmas.
Carole Cadwalladr asks If you’re on the side of democracy, Nick Clegg, why are you going to work for Facebook?
Because what you don’t seem to have grasped is that the crisis gripping Britain and the one gripping Facebook are one and the same. They’re manifestations of each other. It isn’t technology that has blown apart our world – it’s Facebook’s business model. It’s the monetisation of fear and hatred and lies. And what we’re witnessing here in Britain is a compromised government colluding with a compromised technology platform to cover up the truth of what happened in the EU referendum.
We know Facebook that was the key to the vote. That almost all the money spent was funnelled through the platform. That spending limits were exceeded. That electoral laws were broken. That campaigns were illegally co-ordinated. That Russia targeted us. And that Facebook facilitated all this. Your company is refusing to hand over evidence, according to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee. And Zuckerberg has refused – three times – to testify to parliament.