Saint Zuck

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” writes Mark Zuckerberg at the start of his letter to would-be shareholders in the company’s IPO filing. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”


One of the great things about our newly transparent world is that we can peer into people’s pasts – I mean, their timelines – and see what they were doing and thinking way back when. And when you scroll Zuckerberg’s timeline back to Facebook’s formative days, you do indeed see a young man filled with philanthropic fervor, a man without worldly desires who is putting his heart and his soul into a grand social mission.

Just look at what Zuckerberg was doing, as a sophomore at Harvard, in the days just before he created Facebook. Working selflessly at his computer in his dorm, he created a site called Facemash. It pulled photos of Harvard undergrads from other campus sites, put two of the photos side by side on a web page, and allowed people to vote for which of the two was the “hottest.” It then tallied the votes to create lists ranking students by their looks. It’s hard to imagine a more altruistic project. What Zuckerberg had already realized is that, in order to create seamless online connections between people, you have to first turn them into objects.

And then the fledgling humanitarian really spread his wings. He agreed to write the code for a dating site being planned by some classmates even as he was clandestinely pursuing his own plan for a similar social-networking site, then called The Facebook. He struggled mightily with the ethical dilemma raised by this apparent conflict of interest, at one point pouring his heart out in an instant-message exchange with a high school friend named Adam D’Angelo:

Zuckerberg: So you know how I’m making that dating site

Zuckerberg: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing

Zuckerberg: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time

Zuckerberg: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.

D’Angelo: haha …

Zuckerberg: Like I don’t think people would sign up for the facebook thing if they knew it was for dating

Zuckerberg: and I think people are skeptical about joining dating things too.

Zuckerberg: But the guy doing the dating thing is going to promote it pretty well.

Zuckerberg: I wonder what the ideal solution is.

Zuckerberg: I think the Facebook thing by itself would draw many people, unless it were released at the same time as the dating thing.

Zuckerberg: In which case both things would cancel each other out and nothing would win …

Zuckerberg: I also hate the fact that I’m doing it for other people haha. Like I hate working under other people. I feel like the right thing to do is finish the facebook and wait until the last day before I’m supposed to have their thing ready and then be like “look yours isn’t as good as this so if you want to join mine you can…otherwise I can help you with yours later.” Or do you think that’s too dick?

D’Angelo: I think you should just ditch them

Zuckerberg: The thing is they have a programmer who could finish their thing and they have money to pour into advertising and stuff. Oh wait I have money too. My friend who wants to sponsor this is head of the investment society. Apparently insider trading isn’t illegal in Brazil so he’s rich lol.

D’Angelo: lol

When you’re deeply engaged in pursuing a social mission, and not at all concerned about any sort of crass business interests, you naturally obsess about ways to “fuck over” your competitors so you can get to market first, pour investors’ money into “advertising and stuff,” and “win.” It’s a simple fact: When you’re guided by high social ideals, you can never be “too dick.”


8 thoughts on “Saint Zuck

  1. e.m.griffin

    I feel a little queasy. The “lol” might have put me over the edge. I mean, let’s face it, there is a vast schism here between the altruistic and the objectivist. I think we can denote this fairly clearly by saying those of us who write “lol”s are the objectivists, whereas altruists favor “haha”s.

  2. Sprague Dawley

    To be fair, he is not without ethics and recently stated that from this point he will only devour beasts that he has slaughtered with his own hands. This should help the Winklevii rest easier at night.

  3. Yt7509

    Facebook is fine, I mean it is was it is, however for the “identity on the net”(and associated “war” for using fb, twttr, g+ to log on all or a lot of websites), we really need something like below :

    Where let’s not forget absolutely no single ID is required to be shared amongst actors for a person for the things to “work without friction”

    And exactly same role and organisations (several required and ability to move from one to the other with all associated key data for any trust relationship on privacy to be possible) required for having something like below :

  4. Max Loxterkamp

    I agree with the point you’re making about Zuckerberg’s hypocrisy. It’s strange that his actions leading up to the creation of Facebook are still not given adequate attention. I also find it interesting that you touch on the sacerdotal aspect of Zuckerberg’s public persona. You might be interested in a piece I had published last month:


  5. Stewart Dinnage

    I’m pretty sure David Fincher’s film gave this a bit of attention too. That said, I can’t read about this enough times. The secret of success may be being a dick, just not too dick?

  6. Kevin Kelly

    I am curious whether you buy into Facebook’s premise that we should be defined by the indelible trail of our late-nite chats in college? Isn’t it karmic that he is institutionalizing the system that now binds him in the public eye?

  7. Nick Carr

    “I am curious whether you buy into Facebook’s premise that we should be defined by the indelible trail of our late-nite chats in college?”

    I surely do not. The “discoverability” of all online conversations is troubling to me, and the fact that Zuckerberg’s (and his friends’) were made public through lawsuits, is both chilling and a cautionary tale. (See also the article about the Rutgers case in the new New Yorker.) But as to Zuckerberg: (1) this conversation appears to exemplify what he was thinking not only at this particular moment but throughout the time he was starting Facebook (if you click the link above to the Business Insider piece where I found the conversation, you’ll find a second conversation, from after he moved Palo Alto, which is equally creepy and callous.) Nowhere do I see any evidence that the creation of Facebook was spurred by a sense of social mission. So given the fact that he knew all this was in the public record and nevertheless claimed in his letter to have been motivated not by the desire to start a successful company but by a social mission indicates to me that he lied. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if at this point he believes the lie. (2) Zuckerberg has argued that our social lives should be transparent (from a young age), that we should demonstrate a “single identity” and that if we appear differently in private than we do in public it’s a moral failing. We should therefore hold him to that standard. Yes, karmic.

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