Meta’s Nick Clegg takes a harsh tone on Beijing as momentum builds for a full TikTok ban: ‘China has already taken a very different path’

Meta executive Nick Clegg said that the debate around TikTok—a Facebook competitor—is connected to “values.”
Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images

Nick Clegg, the British politician turned top Meta executive, is taking a harder line against TikTok and China as U.S. politicians debate whether to ban the ByteDance-owned social media app. 

Clegg, currently Meta’s president for global affairs, complained of the “lack of a level playing field” between TikTok and Facebook, the company’s social media platform. 

TikTok “is able to operate in the United States, but companies like Meta are not able to operate our social media services in China,” Clegg said in a Bloomberg TV interview aired on Tuesday. 

Clegg, who joined Meta (then called Facebook) in 2018, has commented on China’s refusal to let Facebook operate in the country before.

In November, Clegg argued that “there just isn’t a level playing field between some of the big, mega Chinese companies and the big American tech companies,” citing TikTok as a specific example in an interview with Fortune editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell.

At the time, Clegg said there were “legitimate questions going forward about how we create an open internet, not a balkanized one, but one which has a proper level playing field.”

Tone toughens

Clegg’s tone was harder in his Bloomberg interview on Tuesday. While the Meta executive declined to discuss national security concerns around TikTok, he suggested that the conversation about TikTok was connected to “an underlying issue of values.” 

When it comes to new technologies like A.I., China “has taken a very different path, and wants to pursue a very different path, based on very different values,” he said. (Last week, Chinese regulators proposed new rules for ChatGPT-like programs, including a security review and measures to ensure that chatbots protect “socialist core values.”)

Clegg suggested that new technologies like A.I. are “going to be used by autocrats around the world for their own purpose,” he said, arguing that “techno-democracies”—in his view, the U.S., Europe, and India—needed to work together to set a new regulatory framework. 

“We can ensure that these new technologies are based on democratic values, and not on autocratic values,” he noted. 

TikTok bans

The U.S. is currently engaged in a fierce political debate over whether to ban TikTok from the country. The federal government, along with several dozen states, bans the social media app from government-issued devices. Critics argue that the app poses a national security threat, whether owing to Chinese regulators having access to U.S. user data or to Beijing meddling with TikTok’s recommendation algorithms. TikTok has consistently denied that Chinese officials can access data from the app’s American users.

Meta is reportedly pushing for stronger action against its competitor TikTok. Last year, the Washington Post reported that the social media company had hired a political consulting firm to push a messge warning of the threat TikTok posed to younger users. 

Mark Zuckerberg once engaged in a strong (and personal) lobbying push to have Beijing allow Facebook to operate in China, including high-profile overtures to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

These efforts failed to persuade China to let Facebook enter the Chinese market. In recent years, Zuckerberg has instead warned that the global success of Chinese tech companies risks exporting the country’s more controlled version of the internet. 

Meta is currently going through what Zuckerberg is calling a “year of efficiency,” or a period of significant cost reductions. The social media company laid off 11,000 employees, or 13% of its workforce, last November, and started a new wave of 10,000 job cuts last week. 

Meta will report earnings for the current quarter on Wednesday after market close. 

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