Clegg wasn’t a figure in Silicon Valley, or even particularly well-known in Washington, but the fact that he was out of nowhere—or, at least, from London—had its own appeal. He would be seen as a fresh figure in the company’s story, and personally didn’t harbor the resentments many in Facebook had accumulated during the company’s slide from darling to villain. (“What’s his name again? Aaron?” he says, when recounting the Sorkin episode.) He hadn’t even been in the country during the 2016 U.S. election debacle. “He didn’t have the stench of that shit on him,” one former Facebook employee says. And here was someone with gravitas, someone who had a long résumé of sitting down with world leaders—even if sitting on the opposite, industry side of the table now would sometimes be “bizarre,” as he describes a 2019 Paris meeting with heads of state: “Theresa May used to work for me.”
Clegg’s idea was to suggest—no, insist—that Facebook start telling its side of things. And rather than keep Zuckerberg outside the fray, as some kind of young Silicon Valley wizard, he thought the company’s most prominent figure should be the one to do it. “I think it remains absolutely right that as the founder, the owner, the CEO, and the chair, he gets out there and explains his side of the story.”
“One of the things I constantly say to folk ’round here is, ‘Don’t go whingeing about the fact that people criticize Facebook.’ People who have been here from the beginning are, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t it awful?’” Clegg says. “I don’t mind that. I mean, I come from a world where everyone criticizes all the time.” He goes on. “We really have very heavy duties to explain ourselves to the outside world.”
Clegg’s own arc to becoming a global player in some way followed Facebook’s: It was unlikely and impossibly exciting until it all started to go wrong. A former member of the European Parliament—Clegg is half Dutch and, as anyone who knows him will tell you within 15 seconds of mentioning his name, speaks five languages—in 2007 he took over as leader of the Liberal Democrat party, then the U.K.’s third-largest political party, a centrist alternative to Conservatives and Labour.
Coming off a well-regarded 2010 performance in the U.K.’s first-ever televised prime ministerial debate, Clegg almost immediately became hugely popular. “Cleggmania spreads across Britain” read the headline in British newspaper The Independent. Clegg represented a new kind of politics: hopeful, humane, urbane and authentic. He helped win his party its highest-ever share of the vote, and a governing coalition with conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Then it collapsed: Clegg and his party got blamed for misleading the country on school fees, a criticism that blossomed into the notion that Clegg had helped grease…
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