Sir Nick Clegg began his new job spinning for Facebook yesterday by claiming it has been a force for good that has helped save thousands of troubled young people.
Confronted with an array of gruesome images found on Instagram – which is owned by the US social media giant – the former deputy prime minister said some posts help those in distress to find support.
The sickening pictures he was shown during a BBC interview included graphic images of self-harm that can be accessed by children.
Sir Nick Clegg, pictured, who is now vice president of global affairs at Facebook, was shown pictures found on Instagram during an interview and asked if he’d let his children near them
Handing them over one by one, BBC media editor Amol Rajan said: ‘Slit wrists, smeared blood, a girl cuddling a teddy bear with ‘This world is so cruel and I don’t want to see it any more’…
‘You’ve got three children, would you let them anywhere near that?’
Sir Nick, 52, who has sons aged 16, 14 and nine, admitted: ‘No, of course not.’
The former Liberal Democrat leader promised Facebook will do ‘whatever it takes’ to make its sites safer.
But last night he faced accusations he has ‘clearly already drunk the Facebook Kool-Aid’ as he defended a company criticised for repeatedly failing to meet its pledges to remove horrific posts that glorify self-harm and suicide.
The father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, pictured, who took her life after viewing posts about suicide, has also accused Instagram of playing a part in her death
In his first public comments as vice president of global affairs at Facebook, Sir Nick admitted it ‘had a lot more work to do’ about the thousands of such images that are still available.
The father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her life after viewing posts about suicide, last week accused Instagram of playing a part in her death.
Sir Nick, who has bought a £7million home in San Francisco as a base for his lawyer wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, 50, and their sons while he works for Facebook, told the BBC: ‘It is as distressing to me as anyone to have heard about the awful tragic cases of teenagers taking their lives in the way that has come to light in recent days.
‘What we have to do is look at this from top to bottom, without any prejudice we will do whatever it takes to try and make this environment safer online, particularly for youngsters.
‘I would not have joined Facebook if I did not believe that it’s a company that wanted to and is going to change.’
He argued that some experts had advised that it is wise to keep certain images up because they can show how to find support.
‘At the moment, they have said that even some of these distressing images are better to keep if it helps young people reach out for help,’ he said.
The ex-MP, who lost his Sheffield Hallam seat at the 2017 election, added: ‘Over the last year 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to leading to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those people and intervening at the right time.’
Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg, 34, hired Sir Nick at a time when his firm’s reputation is in tatters and governments across the world want web giants to be regulated.
Sir Nick’s appointment in October was met with criticism, with some accusing him of hypocrisy having previously poured scorn on Facebook for paying too little tax.
Less than three years ago he described its ‘messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture’ as ‘a little grating’.
Yesterday Sir Nick said he believed the company should pay more tax outside of the US but said the onus was on governments to change the rules.
He also defended Facebook’s business model of using personal data to sell targeted advertising – rather than charging users a subscription, which some would be unable to afford. The collection and sharing of personal data, such as users’ location, shopping habits and holiday plans, was now ‘routine’ among many private companies and public sector organisations, Sir Nick said.
Instagram makes millions feel unhappy
Instagram has damaged the mental health of many of its users, a survey shows.
Endless glossy pictures depicting the supposedly ‘perfect lives’ of others have made two in three of its estimated 23million monthly UK photo-sharers feel irrelevant and unhappy.
By comparison, around a third of Facebook account holders feel negatively about the site and a fifth of those on Twitter.
Researchers commissioned by MoneySaving-Heroes.co.uk examined the impact of regular use on 2,421 Britons aged 18 and over. More than half said the minimum age for access to social media sites should be increased to at least 16.
‘The data-driven economy is here to stay and we have to find ways of managing its harms while preserving its benefits,’ he said. ‘It is, for better or worse, how the internet works.’
Later, during a speech in Brussels, Sir Nick said that while Facebook’s fast growth meant it had ‘undoubtedly made mistakes’, the site had learned some ‘hard lessons’ and was now entering a new phase of ‘reform, responsibility and change’.
‘Everyone has a role in this. Facebook doesn’t have all the answers,’ he added.
‘But nor do governments or regulators either. We must learn from each other and work together. I know there are few debates that are as important as this. The time is ripe to bring together the best ideas from Europe, from Silicon Valley and beyond, to set the rules for an internet that works for all.’
Last night Damian Collins, who chairs the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, tweeted: ‘Nick Clegg has clearly already drunk the Facebook Kool-Aid. He speaks about the ‘serious legal and ethical obligations’ that Facebook has. It’s a shame that Facebook has failed to meet these time and time again. This is all too little, too late.’
In an interview on Radio 4, Mr Collins added: ‘In terms of what he had to say, he did not really say anything different to Facebook executives have been saying for some time, which is to express regret when they are caught out.
‘But we have been raising these sorts of issues for years, there have been other cases of harmful content that has been available to vulnerable people, and the company always say ‘Well it should not be there and we will do better’, but they never do.
‘We want to know what more is going to be done now, we have reached a point where we cannot just rely on the goodwill of companies like Facebook to police their own platforms properly or even enforce their own rules.’