LONDON — Europe hopes Nick Clegg can be the man to bridge the gap with Silicon Valley.
The surprise news that the former U.K. deputy prime minister, who also has plenty of Brussels experience on his CV, starts at Facebook on Monday was welcomed in both Westminster and the tech sector.
“I think he will help Facebook realize that Europe is a very different place to the U.S. with different attitudes towards social media and a different interpretation of what freedom of expression means,” Nigel Huddleston, a Tory MP and aide to U.K. Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright, said.
“He will help them on what will be a difficult journey over the next few years,” Huddleston added.
Clegg joins the social media platform as head of its global affairs and communications team in the aftermath of a raft of scandals that have rocked the tech giant, and dented trust in the Facebook brand.
Twitter and Facebook have been widely criticized for not doing more to stem the abuse of their platforms by Russian and other foreign actors hoping to manipulate the political landscape during elections.
In September, Facebook revealed that millions of users accounts had been hacked and reams of personal data stolen.
The companys leaders were also criticized for being slow to react to the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook needs “new perspectives to help us through this time of change” in a post announcing Cleggs appointment.
Access to Zuck?
But industry figures say Cleggs success in changing the culture at Facebook will lie in whether Facebooks senior managers are willing to listen.
“It all depends on his access to [Mark Zuckerberg] and whether there is a real commitment to let him decide to do things differently,” said one senior industry figure, who is not authorized to speak on the record.
Daniel Korski, an adviser at No.10 Downing Street during the coalition government of which Clegg was a part, said the move is “good for him and potentially good for Facebook — if they are willing to change and hes able to compel them to change.”
While Korski thinks Clegg would always bear the U.K. in mind when decisions are made about hires and product launches, the ex-Liberal Democrat MP is “obviously not the U.K. ambassador to Facebook.”
A Facebook official highlighted Cleggs decision to relocate his family to California as a commitment on both sides, and a sign of the access Clegg would have to both Zuckerberg and Sandberg.
Clegg, said the official, is seen as an outsider who will shake up Menlo Parks approach to public policy.
Cleggs departure from the U.K. comes just months before the U.K. leaves the European Union — something the former Liberal Democrat leader has been fighting to stop.
Critics were quick to point out Cleggs lack of political success in recent years. He oversaw the implosion of his Liberal Democrat party, which lost 49 of its 57 seats in the 2010 election after entering a coalition with the Conservative Party.
He was also on the losing side of the EU referendum campaign, and lost his own Sheffield Hallam seat in Theresa Mays snap election in 2017.
His former press secretary, James McGrory, claimed Clegg has always been interested in tech while serving as a politician, and it has “only grown.”
“He is a liberal to his fingertips, interested in the big ideas,” McGrory said.
In his own Facebook post, Clegg said Facebook and its other platforms — WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus and Instagram — are at the heart of “some of the most complex and difficult questions we face as a society.”
Facebook should not act alone in Silicon Valley in answering questions around issues like individual privacy, democratic integrity and the balance between free speech and prohibited content, he added.
But the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, an old Clegg adversary, described Cleggs appointment as “bad news.”
“Facebook have appointed globalist propagandist @nick_clegg as Vice President for Global Affairs, this is bad news for free speech,” he tweeted.
Nancy Scola contributed reporting.