Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of communications, has dismissed allegations that misuse of the social network influenced the Brexit referendum result.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on Monday, the former deputy UK prime minister said the company’s investigations had found no evidence of Russian involvement in the campaign, unlike when it ran a similar inquiry into the 2016 US election.
As for Cambridge Analytica, the election consultancy that shut down after it emerged it had used improperly acquired Facebook data to target voters with political advertising, Clegg cited an investigation by the UK’s information commissioner to argue that “no UK voter’s Facebook data was involved”.
He added: “We ran two full analyses of all the data we have in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, following exactly the same methodology as we did after the FBI notified Facebook of outside interference in the 2016 US presidential election. We’ve shared all this information with the select committee and Westminster and elsewhere. We have found no evidence of a significant attempt by outside forces.
“I’ve also heard it claimed that that [Cambridge Analytica] data was used in the Brexit referendum here. In fact, the watchdog, the UK watchdog that has that data … firstly they said this last week, that there was no raw data from Facebook on the servers of Cambridge Analytica, but more than that, they have confirmed that no UK voter’s Facebook data was involved.”
Clegg did not address allegations that Facebook’s viral mechanics aid populist politics at the expense of more moderate campaigns, a theory cited by academics and researchers to explain the rise of populism. But earlier this month, he dismissed those concerns as well, telling the Times’s Red Box podcast that populism was “not new”.
He added: “Social media has something which is qualitatively new, which is scale and speed. What is not new is people coming up with bonkers ideas, or fake ideas, or indulging in extremist or populist points of view. That was not invented 15 years ago. Populism, extremism, conflict and division in society, particularly when you have, as we have had since 2008, profound economic and social shocks to society, I think people some times confuse symptom with cause.
“You see a lot of the divisions in society played out on social media … When you look at the claims and counterclaims about the effect of social media on the US presidential elections in 2016, [you] discover that the thing that created the bubble effect was the feedback loop between the tweets of the then candidate Donald Trump and the media, cable TV.”
Clegg also argued the recent backlash against technology companies created “the risk that we throw the baby out with the bathwater and make it almost impossible for tech to innovate properly … Technology is not good or bad. Technology down the ages is used by good and bad people for good and bad ends.”
Before he took the job at Facebook, but after the Brexit and US presidential votes, Clegg wrote in the Evening Standard that he found “the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating”. However, even then, he argued “populists know how to appeal to emotions in a way reasonable, measured liberals almost never do. So the politics of moderation needs to pack a bigger emotional punch. That’s our problem – not Mark Zuckerberg’s.”
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