What Facebook Sees in a Defeated British Politician

Hiring Nick Clegg is easy. Changing the social network’s behavior will be far harder.

What Facebook Sees in a Defeated British Politician

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The two most catastrophic stops on Facebook Inc.'s tour of apology around the world's legislatures were, without doubt, CEO Mark Zuckerberg's appearance in Brussels and Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer's performance in London.

It was clear from these outings at the European Parliament and Britain's House of Commons the pair had embarrassingly little understanding of the arenas into which they had been pitched. The Capitol Hill hearings were a breeze in comparison.

This helps to explain why the social media giant has hired Nick Clegg, the former U.K. deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader, as its new head of global affairs and communications. The Financial Times reported on Friday that he will move to Silicon Valley next year to start the new position.

Clegg ticks all the boxes. He worked as an FT journalist early in his career, and started in politics as a member of the European Parliament in 1999 before his election to the U.K. Parliament in 2005. He should prove a valuable asset in helping Zuckerberg and his colleagues deal with European lawmakers' threats to impose higher taxes and tighter rules over how information is disseminated on social media.

Zuckerberg promised Clegg a key role in shaping Facebook's strategy, according to the FT. It's hard to understate the significance of that in a company where most of the top lieutenants are long-serving loyalists. The exposure of shortcomings in the way the company handles user data showed how COO Sheryl Sandberg had struggled to rein in the Facebook bros.

Clegg will want to be more than a mouthpiece, and might hope to serve as Facebook's conscience, just as he tried to do with his Conservative coalition partner in government, David Cameron. The risk is he'll be trampled on again by another big blue giant.

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Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

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