Facebook has hired former UK deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg as the company's head of global policy and communications.

The appointment was met with widespread surprise, although rumours have swirled for weeks that a prominent former British politician was in line for the role, with George Osborne and David Miliband among the rumoured candidates.

© Crown Copyright
© Crown Copyright

Facebook will hope Clegg can help the company recover from the damage done to its reputation by a recent string of privacy and data scandals, as well as reports that use of the social network is declining.

The connections and experience that the former MEP and European Commission trade advisor has with the EU will also help the social network.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before the European Parliament earlier this year to answer questions about the company's data protection ethics and possible development into a monopoly. Facebook is also struggling to navigate GDPR, which could lead it to receiving a $1.63 billion fine for a September data breach.

The Financial Times said that Clegg had agreed to take on the job "after months of wooing by Mark Zuckerberg", leading to speculation that this may have influenced his recent defences of Facebook. Clegg's views on Facebook's tax avoidance will also be closely scrutinised given his previous record for attacking such practices.

Clegg announced the appointment, naturally, in a Facebook post.

"Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus and Instagram are at the heart of so many people’s everyday 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," he wrote.

"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, organisations, governments and regulators around the world to ensure that technology is a force for good.

"I am looking forward to being part of this endeavour. Throughout my public life I have relished grappling with difficult and controversial issues and seeking to communicate them to others. I hope to use some of those skills in my new role."

Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said that Clegg "understands deeply the responsibilities we have to people who use our service around the world.

"Our company is on a critical journey," she posted on Facebook. "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. The opportunities are clear too. Every day people use our apps to connect with family and friends and make a difference in their communities.

"If we can honour the trust they put in us and live up to our responsibilities, we can help more people use technology to do good. That's what motivates our teams and from all my conversations with Nick, it’s clear that he believes in this as well. His experience and ability to work through complex issues will be invaluable in the years to come."

Clegg will move to Silicon Valley in June, replacing Elliot Schrage in the role, who departed Facebook this summer after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. Clegg will work with Richard Allen, Facebook's public policy chief for Europe and the man he replaced as the Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam.