Facebook Hires Former Deputy PM Nick Clegg

Facebook has raised a few eyebrows with the appointment of a former deputy Prime Minister, as the social networking giant seeks to distance itself from recent data sharing scandals and possible government regulation.

In a surprise move, the firm has appointed Sir Nick Clegg as its vice president of global affairs and communications.

It is thought that Facebook was keen to take advantage of Clegg’s political experience as part of the UK government, as well as his close contacts with Europe (he was a former MEP), to help the firm tackle possible action by national regulators.

New position

New of the appointment was first reported in the Financial Times, and then Clegg confirmed the news in a series of newspaper articles.

He told the Guardian newspaper on Friday for example that he was seeking to harness “big tech to the cause of progress and optimism. I believe that Facebook can lead the way.

“Next week it will be my first day in a new job, after almost 20 years in public life in Europe and Britain,” he wrote. “It could not be more of a contrast. Instead of the gothic splendour of Westminster, I will be surrounded by the gleaming glass and steel of Silicon Valley.”

“I have mixed feelings about leaving the UK’s public debate about the future of our country’s relations with the rest of Europe,” he wrote. “I am no longer a member of parliament and have never had any desire to sit in an unreformed House of Lords. So once I had decided to accept a new role at Facebook, there was little merit in delaying my move any longer.”

“Instead, as vice-president of global affairs and communications at Facebook, I hope to help it navigate the numerous challenges it faces, in common with other leading tech companies, as the data-driven technological revolution continues to affect every aspect of our everyday lives,” he wrote.

“I do not arrive in Silicon Valley with a monopoly of wisdom on these crucial questions, but I have been impressed in my numerous conversations with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in recent months by the seriousness with which they recognise the profound responsibilities that Facebook has – not only to its vast number of users but to society at large,” he wrote.

“As with most big decisions I took in politics, I expect my decision to move to Silicon Valley will be shouted down by people from the left and the right,” he added. “We cannot wish away technological progress. We need to find solutions, not succumb to the easy emotions and polemic of a ‘tech-lash’”.

“I remain a stubborn optimist about the progressive potential to society of technological innovation,” he said. “It is time to build bridges between politics and tech so that tech can become the servant of progress and optimism, not a source of fear and suspicion.”

Clegg criticism

There is no word on how much he will be paid, but his salary is expected to be in the millions, and Clegg will move his family to California in January.

He was reportedly convinced to take the role after Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, guaranteed he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy.

But Clegg will also have to deal with some tricky issues, as he has previously spoken out against Facebook as deputy minister, when he weighted in on topics such as cracking down on tax avoidance by big companies.

It was reported earlier this month that Facebook paid only £7.4m in tax last year in the UK, despite racking up a record £1.3bn in British sales.

Some other comments about Facebook may also come back to haunt him.

“I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating,” Clegg reportedly said in 2016. “Nor am I sure companies such as Facebook really pay all the tax they could.”

Clegg of course has not been forgiven by some people after he reneged on the Lib Dems’ election promise to scrap university tuition fees, and instead voted to raise them in 2010, when he part of David Cameron’s coalition government.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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