Facebook has hired Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, as its head of global policy and communications.
Clegg, 51, will join Facebook as it struggles to cope with mounting political pressure over issues including fake news, data protection and the threat of government regulation.
The former head of the Liberal Democrats will move to Silicon Valley in January. He will succeed Elliot Schrage, who announced in June that he was leaving his role at Facebook after a decade, although he remains an adviser.
While the appointment of Clegg to a top role at a Silicon Valley giant may come as a surprise, rumours had been circulating for weeks that the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was close to appointing a top former British politician.
The names of former chancellor George Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard, and the ex-Labour foreign secretary David Miliband had circulated as potential candidates for the role. However, it is not known if either was officially approached by Facebook.
Clegg’s political career peaked when he became deputy prime minister after leading the Liberal Democrats into a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservative Party between 2010 and 2015. He lost his seat in parliament in the 2017 general election.
Clegg’s appointment, first reported in the Financial Times, is said to have come after he was wooed by Zuckerberg for months. The Facebook founder succeeded in getting him on board by guaranteeing he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, was also involved in Clegg’s recruitment.
Clegg will have had to broach some tricky ground in his interviews with Facebook, having previously spoken out about cracking down on tax avoidance by big companies when he was deputy prime minister.
Earlier this month it emerged that Facebook paid only £7.4m in tax last year despite racking up a record £1.3bn in British sales.
Clegg, is relocating with his wife, the international trade lawyer Miriam González Durántez, and their three sons. He will start work on Monday and will be based at Facebook’s London office until moving in the new year.
The decision to appoint Clegg, a former European commission trade negotiator and member of the European parliament, is indicative of Facebook’s desire to have a better relationship with Brussels, where the social media giant is facing calls for increased regulation.
Last year the European commission fined Facebook £94m for providing “misleading” information about its $19bn takeover of WhatsApp in 2014.
Facebook is also facing wider scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the social network’s role in the dissemination of “fake news”.
In July, Facebook was fined £500,000 – the maximum possible amount – for a lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information, relating to the scandal.
Sources say the decision to hire Clegg is not designed to be “quick fix” but a “bold” example that the company is committed to tackling Facebook’s policy and reputational challenges. He will take the official title of vice-president, global affairs and communications.
In the summer, Facebook lost its top policy and communications chiefs Schrage and Rachel Whetstone. Whetstone is married to Steve Hilton, the political strategist who was a close adviser to David Cameron. In August, Whetstone was named as Netflix’s new global communications chief. She previously worked at Google and Uber before joining Facebook in 2017.
In the UK, media regulator Ofcom recently joined calls for independent internet regulation after research that found 20% of British people had been harmed by web content.
In May, the government said laws would be introduced to tackle the internet’s “wild west”, saying the legislation will make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.
Earlier this month the chief executive of the UK competition regulator said it is “actively considering” launching an investigation into the digital advertising market – which is dominated by Facebook and Google. The chancellor, Phillip Hammond, has also suggested he is ready to slap a digital services tax on internet companies in a bid to force them to pay more tax.
Richard Allan, Facebook’s public policy chief for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, is a Liberal Democrat peer and held the seat of Sheffield Hallam prior to Clegg.