Facebook hires ex-UK deputy prime minister to lead lobbying push
Bringing the polyglot, former politician Nick Clegg on board could especially help Facebook in the UK and Europe, where it faces new regulatory rules
London/Brussels — Facebook hired Nick Clegg, Britain’s former deputy prime minister, to run its global lobbying efforts, as governments around the world debate how best to regulate the social media giant.
As leader of the Liberal Democrats, Clegg was at the heart of the British government from 2010 to 2015. He’s also a former member of the European Parliament who knows his way around the institutions of the EU.
Clegg’s hire comes as Facebook is under fire from regulators, politicians and authorities around the world on issues ranging from user privacy breaches, to the proliferation of fake news and hate speech on its platforms. He speaks French, Dutch and German.
Bringing a former local politician on board could especially help the Silicon Valley giant in the UK, where it is under investigation for letting the data of millions of its users end up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm working on Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign.
“The company is on a journey which brings new responsibilities, not only to the users of Facebook’s apps but to society at large,” Clegg wrote on his Facebook page. “I hope I will be able to play a role in helping navigate that journey.” His title at Facebook will be vice-president, global affairs and communications.
Clegg is no stranger to controversy. When he agreed to form a coalition with then prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010, Clegg led his party into government for the first time since the Second World War. But the move went down badly with the party supporters. The two parties weren’t natural bedfellows — the Liberal Democrats are left of centre. And there was a particular issue around university tuition fees that bombed with supporters.
In the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats lost all but eight of the 57 lawmakers they had returned to parliament five years earlier. Clegg quit as leader and lost his own seat in last year’s surprise election.
A low point in his career came in 2012, when a contrite Clegg apologised in a political advertisement for promising to oppose any increase in tuition fees: “We made a pledge, we did not stick to it, and for that I am sorry.” It generated a series of spoofs online.
Clegg replaces Elliot Schrage, who stepped down in June after a tumultuous decade at the company, which featured a period of rapid growth, an initial public offering (IPO), and the beginning of the fallout of the privacy scandals. Schrage will stay on as an advisor.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote: “The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us though this time of change.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg were deeply involved in the hiring process and talks to hire Clegg began over the European summer. Clegg will start on Monday but his family — he has three sons — won’t move to California until 2019, according to a person familiar with the talks. Clegg’s wife, Miriam, is Spanish and a top trade lawyer.
Facebook has hired heavily from Washington, in its communications department and beyond. Its head of global policy, Joel Kaplan, used to work for president George W Bush. Alphabet’s Google and Uber — also both battling regulatory scrutiny and reputation damage — recently hired former political advisers for senior public policy roles.
Google, in 2016, hired Caroline Atkinson, an economic adviser to president Barack Obama, to steer its global policy efforts before stepping aside from that role last year. And in 2015, Uber hired, as its senior vice-president for public policy, Jill Hazelbaker, a former campaign press secretary for Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign as New York City mayor and for senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.