How Mark Zuckerberg is trying to reduce his exposure to public scrutiny
Not Mark Zuckerberg, but Nick Clegg.
In the days following that statement, Clegg announced new security features for users in Russia and Ukraine, crackdowns on Russian state media on its platforms, and other steps Meta is taking to address the conflict, including communicating with foreign governments about it. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has yet to publicly comment on the dispute.
As Meta continues its multi-billion dollar bet to reshape the company, Zuckerberg will focus on his vision of building a (currently still conceptual) “metaverse”, while Clegg will be tasked with explaining and explaining it. justify as well as the other actions of the company. to legislators, regulators and the public.
“When I look at it, the promotion of Nick Clegg in a way doesn’t change his role, but I think the idea is to give him a title so big that Zuckerberg doesn’t have to testify [at government hearings] more,” said Roger McNamee, a former Facebook investor and adviser to Zuckerberg who in 2019 published the book “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.”
But, he added, “it’s very clear to me that Mark’s vision is driving the business right now.”
Meta declined to comment for this story.
But in some ways, it also represents an attempt to return to a time when Facebook was less under fire.
A return to simpler times
Prior to 2016, the division of labor among Facebook’s top brass was different: Zuckerberg handled the company’s engineering and products, and Sandberg handled “everything else,” according to Nu Wexler, who said. worked as a company spokesperson from 2017 to 2018. .
Since then, Facebook, now Meta, has faced a series of new public relations and political crises. A short list includes: his admission in 2018 that he did not do enough to prevent his role in a genocide in Myanmar, with European regulators adopting data privacy regulations; US antitrust regulators seek to break up company; the January 6 Capitol riot organized in part on Facebook; and, more recently, the publication of the Facebook Papers, which Clegg participated in last year.
Clegg’s high profile, Wexler said, shows how the public policy challenges Meta faces have become too big to be housed solely within Sandberg’s department. It also underscores how Sandberg’s own responsibilities — particularly the struggle with the future of Meta’s ad business, which is now under threat due to Apple’s ad tracking changes and competition from rivals like TikTok — gave him less time to devote to political matters.
Clegg’s new role means that in addition to managing Meta’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he will likely play a leading role in some of the company’s most pressing upcoming decisions. These include how to ensure the platform is not compromised by misinformation or foreign actors during the upcoming US midterm elections later this year and how to respond to calls to protect children on its platforms.
A particularly big test will come when Meta must decide in January 2023 whether to allow former President Donald Trump to return to its platforms before the next presidential election, said Katie Harbarth, a Facebook alum who helped lead the the company’s global electoral efforts until his last departure. year. That Zuckerberg plays a role in that decision will send an important signal about who is really responsible, she said.
“Mark can run, but he can’t hide”
Promoting Clegg undeniably makes him more visible, especially in international business forums like Davos where being an official C-suite member opens many doors, Harbath said. The change may also mean that Clegg will be the executive Meta tries to nominate for future hearings on Capitol Hill and with other heads of government abroad.
“I think the company realized that Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t represent the company well on the outside, especially not in the political context,” Luria said. “That his appearances before Congress probably did the company more harm than they did good and putting someone like Mr. Clegg in that position seems like a much better choice whenever he can.”
The question is whether hostile governments around the world will accept Clegg as a spokesperson for authority or whether policymakers will continue to demand Zuckerberg. Look at any high-level Big Tech hearing where a company is represented by someone other than the CEO and the annoyance among government officials is palpable.
“At the end of the day, Mark can race, but he can’t hide from regulatory pressure,” Harbath said. “I really like Nick. I think he’s going to be a great person to talk to policymakers and relate to them. But I don’t think that’s going to stop people from wanting to talk to Mark.”