Has Nick Clegg ‘mastered the art of failing upwards’?

Mark Zuckerberg has promoted Clegg to Meta’s president of global affairs

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg: a ‘canny’ operator
(Image credit: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

How on earth does Nick Clegg do it, asked Reaction. The former UK deputy prime minister was once best known for wrecking the political fortunes of the Liberal Democrats. Then he moved to Facebook, as vice president (global affairs), where, safe to say, his record has been mixed.

“Facebook on Clegg’s watch has been accused of fuelling misinformation through its failure to tackle misleading content on its platforms.” It has been charged with helping to foment the genocide in Myanmar, and amplifying the lies that stoked the Capitol Hill riots. Yet now Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has made Clegg its president of global affairs, responsible for “all policy matters” worldwide–putting him in theory at a similar level of seniority as Zuckerberg himself. We salute you, Nick Clegg, said Rupert Hawksley in The Independent. You have truly “mastered the art of failing upwards”.

Actually, Clegg “deserves his promotion”, said Emma Duncan in The Times. In the US, he has “dealt niftily” with Facebook’s main problem there: that it has been accused both of “destroying democracy” by allowing fake news to spread, and of undermining freedom of speech by removing disputed posts. Clegg’s canny solution was to play Pontius Pilate: he set up an “oversight board” of “upstanding global citizens” who take independent decisions on Meta’s content. Still, I hope he fails in his main aim of staving off tighter governmental regulation: Meta, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, has grown much too powerful. Its monopolistic power is “not in the public interest”.

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Is it too optimistic to think that Clegg’s appointment could be a real force for change, asked Peter Bloom on The Conversation. Might he clean up Meta’s culture of “personal data mining and manipulation”? We’ll soon see if he’s a “genuine reformer” or just someone brought in to perform “ethics washing” on a rotten corporate culture–doing, effectively, the job he did for David Cameron’s Tories during the coalition government.

If he isn’t, he has a lot of work to do, said Frederike Kaltheuner in The Guardian. Meta’s influence is gigantic, and its flaws are fundamental: it is built on “pervasive surveillance” and its algorithms promote “divisive, sensationalist content”. Such issues are likely to be writ large in its new virtual-reality venture, the “metaverse”; instances of “online harassment and abuse” have been reported on VR platforms. Clegg alone can’t fix these problems, but he could help Meta pause and think. “The time to address this is now.”

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