Nick Clegg: “I'm not just providing a PR gloss”

ICYMI, former deputy prime minister-turned-YouTube sensation-turned-Facebook flack Nick Clegg went on Radio 4's Today programme earlier on Monday to plead for more regulation for Facebook. (Yes, really. And no, of course this isn't about heading off calls for a break-up of the company.)

While Cleggers has been derided for functioning as a mere puppet-on-a-string during his time in David Cameron's coalition government, it seems Facebook's “Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications” reckons things are different this time.

Nick Robinson, who was interviewing Clegg on BBC's Radio 4, put the following to him during the Today interview:

The cynics might say: here is Nick Clegg, effectively a PR man for Mark Zuckerberg, who's had a lot of flack, saying: look this is your problem, not our problem. If you're worried about these things, you do something about it. Don't ask us to do something about it.

To which Cleggers, sounding a touch ruffled, responded:

Well, I'm not just providing a PR gloss. I sort of, in a sense, in my new job, I'm responsible for how these policies are set, and they're very substantive — on how to tackle terrorist content online, how to protect elections from outside interference, and so on . . .

Clegg went on:

I want to see — and that's part of my new job — companies like Facebook play an increasingly mature role. Not shunning regulation but actually advocating it in a sensible way . . .

We can do better. And we are already doing better. One of things I've been doing in my new job for instance is working hand in glove with my counterparts in the other big internet companies . . . in order to put in place ever-better ways of responding to (things like the Christchurch massacre).

Somewhat strangely, given the timing of the interview, Clegg didn't speak at all about Libra, Facebook's new “cryptocurrency” and “blockchain” product. Though in other unrelated news, a PR from Facebook got in touch with us last week after we called out Libra for being neither a cryptocurrency nor a blockchain, asking for changes in our story (which we didn't make). It turns out that this PR was formerly . . . a parliamentary aide to Nick Clegg.

Clegg said his calls for more regulation were absolutely not about fighting what a potential “dismemberment” of the company. He did talk a lot about innovation, though:

I think the danger is that if that tech-lash topples from scepticism about tech into outright phobia of it we end up with the risk that we throw the baby out with the bathwater and we make it almost impossible for tech to innovate properly . . .

We should keep our ability — in Europe and North America — to innovate and our ability to use data proportionately and innovatively, otherwise if we deprive ourselves of that ability, I can predict that within a relatively short period of time we will have tech domination from a country with wholly different sets of values to those that are shared in this country and elsewhere.

(So in other words: don't even think about breaking up Facebook. Because China.)

Not just providing a PR gloss, we're sure. But pretty darn good at providing a PR gloss nonetheless.

Boris Johnson — who once said Clegg's role as deputy PM was to be Cameron's “lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things that David Cameron has to do”, and who is currently the subject of a cringeworthy “exclusive” on the Mail Online — must surely be wishing he could call in that level of PR gloss right now.

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