Former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg joins Facebook

His recruitment will be as much of a surprise to Britain as it will be to Silicon Valley

 Nick Clegg (51), the former Liberal Democrat Party leader will move to Silicon Valley in January. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Nick Clegg (51), the former Liberal Democrat Party leader will move to Silicon Valley in January. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

 

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.

Mr Clegg (51) will move to Silicon Valley in January to succeed Elliot Schrage, who announced he would leave Facebook after 10 years in June.

His recruitment will be as much of a surprise to the British political establishment as it will be to Silicon Valley, where few European politicians enjoy a high profile in the insular tech industry.

The former deputy prime minister led the Liberal Democrat party in coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives from 2010 to 2015 but lost his seat in parliament in the 2017 general election.

He agreed to take on the job after months of wooing by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who told Mr Clegg he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy.

Mr Clegg 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.

Connection in Brussels

The decision by Facebook to hire Mr Clegg, a former European Commission trade negotiator and member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004, suggests the company is trying to boost its connections in Brussels, where Facebook could face some of its biggest regulatory challenges.

Facebook has lurched from one crisis to another during the past two years, including concerns about Russian interference and “fake news” influencing the 2016 US election, the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal and, most recently, a cyber attack that exposed the personal information of 30 million users.

In the middle of the crises, Facebook’s two top policy and communications executives, Mr Schrage and Rachel Whetstone, left the company this summer.

Mr Schrage, a close ally of Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, announced his departure in June after a decade at the social network. Ms Whetstone, who worked at Google for almost 10 years before moving to Uber in 2015, swapped Facebook for its Silicon Valley neighbour Netflix in August.

Key departures

The pair are among several key departures this year – including the founders of Facebook’s three biggest acquisitions, WhatsApp, Oculus and Instagram – and a rare management reshuffle by Mr Zuckerberg in May.

Mr Zuckerberg and Ms Sandberg were criticised for what was initially seen as a slow response to the Cambridge Analytica revelations, before being hauled before regulators and politicians in the US and Europe.

Since then it has curtailed app developers’ access to the data on its platform and introduced tools to verify political advertisers in the US, Brazil and just this week in the UK.

Facebook faces the next big test of its attempts to limit political manipulation on its apps and sites next month, with the US midterm elections.

Mr Clegg will be a new addition to a group of long-serving British executives in Silicon Valley, including Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, and Ms Whetstone, who is married to Steve Hilton, a former adviser to Mr Cameron turned tech entrepreneur and US political commentator.

The former deputy prime minister may be seen as an unusual choice for the role, given his limited experience in US politics.

Too insular

Nonetheless, as the first external recruit to Facebook’s senior leadership team since the 2016 US election, Mr Clegg could help to stem criticism that Mr Zuckerberg has been too insular and made few changes to his inner circle.

He will also be able to offer advice on handling European regulators and navigating the looming legal challenges of the General Data Protection Regulation.

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, who has been campaigning for a second EU referendum in Britain to reverse the Brexit vote, will start working for Facebook in the next few weeks in London before relocating with his wife Miriam González, a successful lawyer, and their three sons. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018