Facebook Has a New Metascapegoat

Facebook Has a New Metascapegoat
Photo: Picture Alliance, Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg has named a new sucker to take his punches. In a blog post, Meta’s founder and CEO said Nick Clegg would now “lead our company on all policy matters,” and decide how the company interacts with governments under the new, glitzy title, “President, Global Affairs.”

The promotion will see Clegg act as the point man for all things Facebook-speak and will have him “make the case publicly for [Meta’s] products and [Meta’s] work.” Presumably, this will mean continuing the company’s deep-pocketed assault against brewing antitrust legislation and convincing lawmakers to let Meta literally co-write new privacy laws to benefit themselves.

Honestly, all that sounds pretty similar to Clegg’s mandate under his previous role as Vice President of Global Affairs and Communication. The core difference with the position change, it seems, is one of scope. As Zuckerberg explains, President of Global Affairs Clegg, who once answered to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, will now report directly to Zuckerberg. Presumably, the change will also come with several hefty bucket fulls of cash for Clegg. How much would it cost for you to take on a role as the policy and political face of one of the tech least trusted companies?

Towards the end of his post, Zuckerberg let readers in on more of the real reasons for Clegg’s promotion.

“As Nick takes on this new leadership role, it will enable me to focus more of my energy on leading the company as we build new products for the future,” Zuckerberg said. “And it will support Sheryl as she continues to focus on the success of our business.”

In other words, Clegg’s new role will require him to bear the responsibility for Meta’s actions and clean up years’ worth of political, social, and moral morass concocted under the founder’s watch. But hey, it’s mai tais and metaverses for Mark!

For those unaware, Clegg joined Meta (than Facebook) back in 2018 following a lengthy career in UK politics. Clegg served as a member of the Liberal Democrats after spending five years in the European parliament, eventually working his way up to Deputy Prime Minister. Under his tenure, the party went from holding 57 seats to just eight. We’ll let you be the judge of his political effectiveness.

Still, Facebook reportedly saw potential in Clegg as a useful bulwark against impending EU regulations thanks to his connections in the European parliament. The context for his arrival is important as well. Clegg hopped onboard months after Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect and less than one full year after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica debacle.

Since he was hired, Clegg has at times acted like Meta’s obedient attack dog, authoring op-eds pushing back against major Facebook critics and presenting full-throated praise of the company’s supposed virtues. Recently, Clegg was at the forefront of Meta’s skirmish with news outlets and whistleblower Frances Haugen over the myriad salacious accusations of wrongdoing included in what’s come to be known as “The Facebook Papers.”

Clegg was also instrumental in convincing Zuckerberg and Sandberg to take a more tactical approach to government regulation, according to the recent book An Ugly Truth, opting to convince lawmakers to craft soft, favourable regulation rather than oppose new rules outright.

“He [Klegg] said regulations were inevitable, so Facebook needed to lead tech companies in a public campaign to create light-touch, rules instead of more stringent laws,” the book’s authors Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang write. Clegg also reportedly advised Meta’s top leadership to increasingly invoke the “what about China” argument to sidestep criticism around Meta’s outsized economic impact and political power within the U.S.

Still, it’s hard to say whether Clegg’s efforts have left the company in a better position than it would’ve been without him. 

One thing’s for sure, Clegg will certainly have his work cut out for him in his new gig. President Biden’s regulation-hungry FTC and DOJ appear poised to take a far more aggressive stance in coming years. Meanwhile, antitrust legislation with wide bipartisan support is clawing its way through Congress and could present serious threats to Meta’s business model. Oh, and the company is also still recovering from one of the worst stock-free falls in its history and faces dwindling new users across its flagship products. Even Peter Thiel, Facebook’s original money-man, has decided to jump ship.

Rather than address those issues though, the company’s founder appears more interested in drifting off into a lame virtual reality play place with his recently ascribed “Metamates.”