The former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg has been promoted to top policy executive at Facebook parent company Meta – making him one of the most powerful people in tech.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Clegg’s promotion in a Facebook post on Wednesday, signalling that the founder will have less of an involvement in policy going forward.
‘We need a senior leader at the level of myself (for our products) and Sheryl (for our business) who can lead and represent us for all of our policy issues globally,’ Zuckerberg wrote, referring to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Clegg, 55, who was British deputy prime minister from 2010 to 2015, joined Facebook in 2018 to run its global policy organisation.
He has led on issues like Facebook’s content policy and elections and spearheaded its establishment of the company’s independent content oversight board.
‘Nick will now lead our company on all our policy matters, including how we interact with governments as they consider adopting new policies and regulations, as well as how we make the case publicly for our products and our work,’ Zuckerberg said in the post.
It comes as Meta faces mounting scandals after whistleblower documents leaked last October claimed its platforms harmed users – and said chiefs were aware of the harm caused by Instagram and WhatsApp but failed to act.
The company is steeped deep in crisis after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents and made bombshell claims last year that Facebook ‘puts profits over people’ by knowingly harming teenagers with its content and stoking anger among users.
Haugen, a Facebook former product manager, left the company with tens of thousands of confidential documents that she copied in secret and released to roughly two dozen news outlets.
The CEO said the change would allow him to focus more on leading the company as it builds new products while Sandberg focused on the success of its business.
Clegg’s elevation to the role of ‘president, global affairs,’ reporting to both Zuckerberg and Sandberg, comes ahead of US midterm elections in November.
Clegg will also be tasked with handling regulatory issues as the company focuses on building the metaverse, a futuristic idea of immersive virtual environments.
‘The next few years will be a crucial time for our company and our industry as new rules for the internet are written all over the world, and as we set out on our journey to help build the metaverse,’ Sandberg wrote in a post.
Appointed in October 2018 as vice-president for global affairs and communications, Sir Nick commands a reported salary of £2.7 million and has been tasked by Mr Zuckerberg to defend the tech giant’s interests abroad.
Trading in his £1.5 million townhouse in Putney, South-West London, for a £7 million mansion in the sleepy Californian hamlet of Atherton, Clegg has embraced the Silicon Valley lifestyle.
Soon after Clegg’s appointment, he launched a charm offensive to win over key power brokers in Brussels. In fact, he held at least 12 meetings with European Commissioners – the EU’s most powerful officials – in less than three years.
The day after his appointment was announced, he emailed Margrethe Vestager, a Danish politician and the then European Commissioner for competition.
‘I know you have reservations about social media, and perhaps FB in particular, but I hope you’d agree it’s good to have a European and a liberal in the heart of Silicon Valley!’ he wrote.
A senior figure in Brussels, Ms Vestager has taken on the biggest technology companies in the world, including Facebook, which she fined €110 million (£96.5 million) for being opaque about its takeover of WhatsApp.
It should also perhaps have been no surprise that one of Clegg’s early key meetings at Facebook’s headquarters near San Francisco was with Irish politicians and officials.
Ireland plays a critical role for Facebook as it employs 5,500 people there and its Dublin office is one of the biggest of the company’s locations outside of California.
Perhaps more importantly, Ireland’s generous tax regime, and the complex way Facebook’s business empire is structured, have allowed it to avoid paying billions of pounds in tax in other countries.
In 2018, one of Facebook’s holding companies in Ireland recorded revenues of £21 billion, more than half of the company’s total global turnover of £39 billion.
That same year, Facebook’s main Irish subsidiary paid £75 million in tax while recording profits of more than £10 billion – equivalent to just 0.8 per cent.
But while Ireland has been keen to offer Facebook financial incentives, other European countries, including the UK, have grown increasingly frustrated at how little the company pays in tax.
Around half of European countries have either proposed or implemented new taxes on technology firms, with the UK Government last April imposing a 2 per cent tax on the revenue that internet companies gain from British users.
Under such a system, Facebook can be taxed twice on the same revenue in two different countries.
Minutes of the meeting in California in January 2019 – marked confidential – reveal how Facebook lobbied to ease its tax burden in Ireland to offset the hundreds of millions of pounds it faced paying out as other EU countries imposed new taxes.
‘Facebook raised an issue with regard to whether payment of national digital sales taxes in some jurisdictions through its Irish subsidiary could be offset against Irish tax,’ the minutes state.
Facebook has since wound up the key Irish holding company, and two others, amid criticism that it was shifting profits to Ireland to avoid tax.
In 2016, Clegg criticised Facebook and suggested the company should be paying more tax.
‘I’m not especially bedazzled by Facebook,’ he wrote in the London Evening Standard.
‘While I have good friends who work at the company, I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating.
‘Nor am I sure that companies such as Facebook really pay all the tax they could – though that’s as much the fault of governments who still haven’t got their tax act together.’