Facebook: Nick Clegg hired as head of global affairs

Joe Watts, Jon Sharman

Facebook has hired ex-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as head of its global affairs and communications team.

In a surprise move, the former-Liberal Democrat leader will move to Silicon Valley in the new year to succeed Elliot Schrage.

The news, first reported by the Financial Times and since confirmed by Mr Clegg, comes as Facebook faces a string of challenges in the UK and Europe, including those arising from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, new EU regulation and claims of Russian cyber activity.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Clegg said: “Throughout my public life I have relished grappling with difficult and controversial issues and seeking to communicate them to others.

“I hope to use some of those skills in my new role.”

It follows the summer departure of two of Facebook’s top policy and communications executives, Mr Schrage and Rachel Whetstone – married to ex-Cameron advisor Steve Hilton.

Mr Clegg is a former European Commission trade negotiator and former member of the European Parliament, suggesting Facebook wants to use his experience to gain an advantage in Brussels.

Facebook faces looming legal difficulties after a security breach in September saw the details of three million Europeans put at risk, which put it on a collision course with the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulations. Both founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg have been criticised for their response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Mr Clegg said: “Having spoken at length to Mark and Sheryl over the last few months, I have been struck by their recognition that the company is on a journey which brings new responsibilities not only to the users of Facebook’s apps but to society at large. I hope I will be able to play a role in helping to navigate that journey.

“Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus and Instagram are at the heart of so many people’s everyday lives – but also at the heart of some of the most complex and difficult questions we face as a society: the privacy of the individual; the integrity of our democratic process; the tensions between local cultures and the global internet; the balance between free speech and prohibited content; the power and concerns around artificial intelligence; and the wellbeing of our children.

“I believe that Facebook must continue to play a role in finding answers to those questions.”

Facebook already has links to the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Richard Allan, its public policy chief for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is a Lib Dem peer. Mr Clegg succeeded Mr Allan as MP for Sheffield Hallam.

Mr Clegg led the Liberal Democrats in coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives between 2010 to 2015, but lost his seat in parliament in the 2017 general election.

The former MP has since been campaigning for a Final Say referendum on the outcome of Brexit negotiations but will now start working for Facebook in the next few weeks in London, before heading to the US with his wife and their three sons.

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Clegg claimed he wanted to “build bridges between politics and tech so that tech can become the servant of progress”.

“If the tech industry can work sensibly with governments, regulators, parliaments and civic society around the world, I believe we can enhance the benefits of technology while diminishing the often unintended downsides,” he wrote.

Mr Clegg will now be at the forefront of the effort by Facebook to ensure world leaders it is doing enough to counter threats like election meddling and attempts by hackers to gain access to private data. Mr Zuckerberg’s company also owns WhatsApp and Instagram.

The ex-politician also said his new role required him to step back from Brexit-related campaigning, though he used his Guardian column to call the arguments in favour of a final say vote on any exit deal “overwhelming”.

It came a day before The Independent and the People’s Vote campaign were due to stage a march in central London demanding a final vote.