There have been many ironic fates for the lead actors in the Coalition government. For David Cameron, the premier who pledged to ‘clean up’ the ‘culture of excessive lobbying’ there was the Greensill scandal. For George Osborne, the austerity Chancellor who decimated the culture sector, there was a smorgasbord of jobs and the chairmanship of the British Museum.
Chris Huhne was jailed, Oliver Letwin lost the whip while Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, now works at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – an institution used to front China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’
But none of these have been as both paradoxically high-profile and humiliating as Sir Nick Clegg’s strange parliamentary after-life as vice-president of Facebook. The former deputy PM joined the social media giant three years ago this month and has endured something of a torrid time excusing the antics of Mark Zuckerberg’s global behemoth as it lurches from one crisis to the next.
We in Britain are largely spared the semi-regular appearances of Clegg popping up to shill on prime time television – that’s a treat instead reserved for American viewers for whom he has become something of a depressingly familiar fixture.
Just yesterday he went on CNN’s State of the Union to answer questions about the Capitol insurrection. Clegg was repeatedly asked about the revelations of Facebook whisteblower Frances Haugen, who says the social network prioritises ‘growth over safety’ and is ‘tearing our societies apart’.
One Washington write up dismissively referred to him as a ‘spokesman’ while another headline was damning in its simplicity: ‘Facebook VP can’t give ‘yes or no answer’ on whether algorithms amplified insurrectionists’ voices’.
It came after a torrid appearance five days earlier on CNN’s media show Reliable Sources. A tired-looking Clegg was told by host Brian Stelter that ‘Part of me feels like I’m interviewing the head of a tobacco company right now’ – a comparison to which the former Lib Dem leader could only blink and then dismiss as ‘profoundly false’.
Clegg tried to support his statement by asserting that people enjoy social media apps in large numbers – a popularity once shared by, er, cigarettes. One article headlined: ‘Nick Clegg is no match for Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’ and concluded that if Facebook ‘wants to shake this scandal off like all the others… it will have to do better than Nick Clegg.’ Ouch.
Luckily by now Sir Nick is used to fielding questions about the indefensible – something for which his leadership of the Lib Dems no doubt prepared him. At the time of joining Zuckerberg’s firm, he said in October 2018 that: ‘It’s time that we harnessed big tech to the cause of progress and optimism. I believe that Facebook can lead the way.’
Since then there has been ample evidence that Facebook is not, in fact, leading the way. Scandals include the following: the record $5 billion FTC fine for violations of user privacy, unchecked political adverts, the Christchurch mosque shooter, Uyghur genocide denial, accusations of shadow-banning in India, human trafficking allegations, white supremacist material and self-harm content, to name just a few.
Let’s hope the money was worth it eh Sir Nick?<//>
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