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Facebook recruits EU veteran to help with tougher scrutiny

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 19, 2018

Nick Clegg, then leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party, speaks at a news  conference in London on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Facebook has hired former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams it was announced Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny by the bloc. (Associated Press)
Nick Clegg, then leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party, speaks at a news conference in London on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Facebook has hired former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams it was announced Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny by the bloc. (Associated Press)
By Danica Kirka Associated Press

LONDON – Facebook has hired former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny in the region and snowballing challenges to its reputation.

Clegg, 51, will become a vice president of the social media giant, and report to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. He described the new job Friday as “an exciting new adventure,” after 20 years in British politics.

Clegg will particularly be called upon to help Facebook grapple with a changing regulatory landscape globally. EU regulators are interested in reining in mostly American tech giants who they blame for avoiding tax, stifling competition and encroaching on privacy rights.

In a post on his Facebook page, Clegg described the company as being not just part of many people’s lives, “but also at the heart of some of the most complex and difficult questions we face as a society: the privacy of the individual; the integrity of our democratic process; the tensions between local cultures and the global internet; the balance between free speech and prohibited content; the power and concerns around artificial intelligence; and the wellbeing of our children.

“I believe that Facebook must continue to play a role in finding answers to those questions – not by acting alone in Silicon Valley, but by working with people, organizations, governments and regulators around the world to ensure that technology is a force for good,” he wrote.

It’s not the first time a major corporation or nonprofit has poached a former political leader to offer clarity on the inner workings of government. After wrapping up his work as president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso joined Goldman Sachs as nonexecutive chairman in 2016. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder went on to chair oil company Rosneft; former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband moved to New York to become CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

Tech companies have been poaching British talent for years as well, though Clegg appears to be the highest-ranking departure to date. Steve Hilton, a former director of strategy to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, decamped to California and now hosts a Fox news show. Tim Chatwin, another Cameron aide, now works for Google, as does Theo Bertram, who worked in Downing Street for Labour Party Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Clegg led the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015, including five years in the coalition government with the Conservatives. He lost his seat at last year’s general election. Before that, he was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004.

In recent months, he has been an active campaigner for a second referendum on Brexit, in hopes of preventing Britain’s departure from the EU. Clegg argued that supporters of Brexit failed to explain the sacrifices that will follow an exit, but he said it was nonetheless time for him to go.

Clegg, who starts Monday, said that he and his family will be moving to California to take on the new job in the coming year. He had been discussing a new role with Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the summer.

Sandberg also posted a welcome to Clegg on Facebook which also echoed his comments that technology can be used “to do good.”

“Our company is on a critical journey,” she wrote. “The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us though this time of change.”

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