Remember The Social Network? Jesse Eisenberg played Mark Zuckerberg in the biopic alongside Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and Justin Timberlake, which documents the early days of Facebook and how Zuckerberg betrayed his close friend Eduardo Saverin to get there. The movie is full of so many twists and turns that it’s easy to forget that before Zuckerberg created Facebook, he made a website to rank his female classmates at Harvard by attractiveness.
Why Zuckerberg Created Facemash
The Social Network starts in 2003, with college student Zuckerberg heartbroken after his girlfriend dumps him for being self-centered and arrogant. Instead of reflecting on how he could work on himself, he decides to write a blog post where he calls her a “bitch” and accuses her of “false advertising” for wearing a push-up bra. It’s a totally normal and healthy way to process getting dumped (please take note of my sarcasm), but Zuckerberg’s night doesn’t end there.
He decides to cope with the breakup by getting drunk and hacking into the school’s server, stealing pictures from his female classmates, and asking his friend for an algorithm to help rank the girls. He then launches Facemash, a website where guys could rank girls based on their attractiveness. The website becomes so popular that the Harvard network crashes, and the girls on the website are understandably disgusted.
While the movie version is compressed – in reality, it took Zuckerberg almost a week to build it – it does capture the basics. Zuckerberg did hack into the university’s online directories to download the I.D. photos of female undergraduates. Facemash did allow users to rate which of two women was “hotter.” The homepage did say “Were we let in for our looks? No. Will we be judged on them? Yes.” He really did blog about the whole process.
And it really did go viral. By the end of the launch day, October 31, over 22,000 votes had been cast. Facemash was only live for two days, as it was reportedly taken down November 2.
In the aftermath, Zuckerberg was punished by Harvard for “breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy” and was almost expelled. But the framework used in Facemash was seemingly later repurposed for his new website, Facebook.
Before anyone tries to write this off as normal college-aged guy behavior, know that it’s not. I spent a good portion of my college years hanging out with fraternity guys and saw some morally questionable behavior, but I don’t know any guy who had a system that pitted girls against each other based on their looks and put it on the internet for other guys to rate them. It’s gross, and I think this incident demonstrates that Zuckerberg isn’t exactly the nicest guy.
From Facemash to Facebook
Zuckerberg was asked about the Facemash website during a 2018 congressional hearing. Zuckerberg admitted to creating Facemash his sophomore year of college but claims it had nothing to do with the creation of Facebook.
He said, “Facemash was a prank website that I launched in college, in my dorm room, before I started Facebook. There was a movie about this, or it said it was about this, it was of unclear truth. The claim that Facemash was somehow connected to the development of Facebook, it isn't, it wasn't... It actually has nothing to do with Facebook."
It's possible that the only thing that connects Facemash and Facebook is that they were created around the same time (and the names are similar), but the story of Facemash is the perfect example of Zuckerberg’s questionable moral code. As years have gone by, we’ve seen Zuckerberg and Facebook involved in many scandals regarding censorship, privacy breaches, its known impact on mental health, and misinformation about genocide in Myanmar.
The Social Network is a fictionalized version of the Facebook story, but I think it’s honest about who Zuckerberg is. When he created Facemash, he showed the world that he was willing to degrade every woman at Harvard to prove that he could create a good website. He was then rewarded for stabbing friends in the back after creating Facebook and became a billionaire as the CEO, incentivizing his immoral behavior. Billions of dollars later, we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s willing to risk his customer’s privacy for a quick buck.
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