April 17, 2021

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Nick Clegg was meant to improve Facebook’s reputation, but its global standing is as questionable as ever

2 min read

Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote for i that Facebook had just appointed Sir Nick Clegg as vice-president of global affairs and communications – its top PR job.

I described Clegg’s hire as intriguing on a number of levels, not least as a high-risk move for both parties’ reputations. And, with the major developments in Australia over the past couple of weeks, perhaps we can start to make a judgement on this gamble.

Clegg moved to California for Facebook in 2018 with little experience in business but with a somewhat bruising experience of British politics.

He had proven himself a superb communicator, having pulled off an amazing performance in the 2010 general election as leader of the Liberal Democrats, manoeuvring himself into the role of deputy prime minister to David Cameron.

But after being seen to concede on some of the Lib Dems’ key political principles, and then later losing the arguments around Brexit – he was among the most ardent Remainers in politics – he switched career.

Facebook hired Clegg in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, after its own reputation had been dragged through the mud for allowing the misuse of millions of members’ personal data.

So was this to be a match made in heaven?

It is difficult to argue today that Facebook’s overall reputation is much better than in 2018. It is regularly criticised for allowing unsavoury, even terrorist, content to appear on its platform, prompting advertisers to sporadically pull their spend. It is often accused, along with other social media, of polarising societal discourse and damaging mental health.

And most recently its spat with Australian authorities over how it compensates publishers of real journalism led to Facebook unwisely blocking news feeds there.

Clegg (sort of) apologised on behalf of Facebook this week, with the firm climbing down. But the row hasn’t exactly enhanced his own global standing. One UK newspaper this weekend ran a piece headlined, “Clegg, the pampered prince of PR”.

Indeed if you measure Clegg and Facebook’s match-up in purely monetary terms – he is said to earn £2.7m a year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now worth $90bn (£65bn) – then perhaps it is a huge success.

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