Nick Clegg likened to 'head of tobacco company' as he defends Facebook over political polarisation claims

Former Yorkshire MP and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has refuted the idea that his new employer Facebook had any role in the US political divisions that led to January 6 insurrection which saw Donald Trump supporters storm the Capitol building in an attempt to overturn the election of Joe Biden.

Nick Clegg is now a senior Facebook executive.

Speaking to CNN, Mr Clegg, who is now vice president for global affairs and communications for the social media giant, said it was “too easy” to blame Facebook for political polarisation.

It follows whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, warning that the platform’s algorithm is driving hate and misinformation and Facebook is hiding evidence that it is being used in this way.

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Mr Clegg denied that Facebook had responsibility for the political divisions in the United States that contributed to the January 6 insurrection.

“I think it gives people false comfort to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States,” the former Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister said.

“I think it would be too easy, surely, to suggest that with a tweak to an algorithm, somehow all the disfiguring polarisation in US politics would suddenly evaporate. I think it absolves people of asking themselves the harder questions about the historical, cultural, social and economical reasons that have led to the politics that we have in the US today.”

CNN journalist Brian Stelter told Clegg: “Part of me feels like I’m interviewing the head of a tobacco company right now. Part of me feels like I’m interviewing the head of a giant casino that gets rich by tricking its customers and making them addicted.”

Mr Clegg said it was “misleading” to compare Facebook to tobacco companies involving in hooking their customers.

He said: “Let me give you one very simple reason why this is such a misleading analogy. The people who pay our lunch are advertisers. Advertisers don’t want their content next to hateful, extreme or unpleasant content.”

The interview took place hours before Facebook and two other services it owns - Instagram and WhatsApp - suffered a collective outage for more than five hours, leaving billions of users unable to access the sites.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the incident highlighted the negative impact of big tech firms controlling large swathes of the online world.

“We need alternatives and choices in the tech market, and must not rely on a few big players, whoever they are,” she wrote on Twitter.

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