Mark Zuckerberg

The story of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg: sanctions, accusations of plagiarism and a disrupted path to success

On February 4, 2004, the first version of the social network with the most users worldwide came to light. How it came to be and what were the main problems that its creator went through before and after building his empire

Mark Zuckerberg was only 19 years old when he published, on February 4, 2004, TheFacebook, the predecessor platform of the network, as we know it today. That first version was intended to put students from Harvard University in contact and fulfilled the function of being a kind of “digital directory” for the members of the institution.

However, TheFacebook was not only the product of the work of today’s billionaire businessman who at that time was a student of Computer Science at the prestigious university, but also of his classmates, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. The platform soon reached more than 400 users and became a boom at Harvard: everyone was talking about it. This motivated them to open it up to other Boston educational institutions, Ivy League schools, and Stanford, Columbia, and Yale Universities.

The name TheFacebook literally referred to what its translation means “the photo directory”. The reason was its purpose, to associate the photos of the users to their descriptions in their profiles. But, in 2004, Zuckerberg had an interview with Sean Parker, who had created Napster, a digital music distribution service. He had proposed to work together, enter the company as executive president and remove the “the” from the name. But the following year, he was arrested and left out of the company. Thus, the social network acquired the name by which it is known today: Facebook.

It was in September 2006 when the network was finally available to all Internet users in the world. According to the report by the digital consultancies We Are Social and Hubspot in January 2023, Facebook reached 2,958 active users worldwide and was consolidated in the number 1 position of the most used social networks. The platform created by Zuckerberg thus added 24 million more than in October 2022, according to data from the same agencies. They were followed by YouTube, with 2,514 million, and WhatsApp and Instagram, with 2,000 each.

Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, creators of Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, creators of Facebook.

The first creations of Mark Zuckerberg and the sanctions of Harvard University

Zuckerberg had a couple of records on the matter. After entering Harvard, he created Coursematch, a platform that allowed students to see the courses they had enrolled in. And in 2003, he had created Facemash, a platform that collected the photos of Harvard students, modified them and compared them with each other. Users of this network could vote for who they considered most attractive.

This brought big problems to the young student, and he was sanctioned by the university authorities. The motives? As he himself told The Harvard Crimson (the university newspaper) in an article published on November 19, 2003, he was “accused of breaching security, violating copyright, and violating individual privacy in creating the website,”.

The charges, he explained, were based on a complaint from the Department of Information Services for the unauthorized use of photographs from online directories. Be that as it may, Zuckerberg was not expelled, but he decided not to return to the university and to dedicate himself, instead, to what would be his next creation: TheFacebook.

This is what "TheFacebook" looked like when it was published on February 4, 2004.
This is what “TheFacebook” looked like when it was published on February 4, 2004.

Plagiarism accusation against Mark Zuckerberg

Before undertaking the project together with Saverin, McCollum, Moskovitz and Hughes, Zuckerberg had been summoned by other Harvard students: the brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and Divya Narendra. They had the idea of creating, a social network for the students of the institution, and the new addition to the team had the purpose of being able to make it happen. The site was ready to go live, but TheFacebook came up.

Six days after the site’s launch, the three Harvard seniors accused Zuckerberg of “intentionally misleading them into thinking he would help them create a social network called, when in fact he was using their ideas to create a website.” competing product”, according to Nicholas Carson on the Business Insider portal.

In 2004, the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra filed a Massachusetts legal complaint against Zuckerberg for “violation of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, and theft of intellectual rights and code theft.” However, the complaint was dismissed in various instances of the United States justice, due to lack of evidence. The unofficial story is told in the film directed by David Fincher, “The Social Network”, premiered in 2010 at the New York Film Festival and named the best film of that year by 400 international media and critics.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Empire

Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Meta, a conglomerate of computing, social media, and platform companies, including Facebook, Facebook Ads, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, among others. It is one of the main technology giants worldwide, along with Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Alphabet (Google).

Zuckerberg became a billionaire just 4 years after the launch of Facebook: in 2008, at the age of 23, he entered the ranking of the 400 richest people in Forbes Magazine at number 321, with a fortune valued at 1.5 billion dollars. In 2011, that number reached 17.5 billion.

In September 2022, Forbes announced that for the first time since 2015, Zuckerberg was not in the ranking of the 10 richest people in the world, since he had been displaced to number 11, with a heritage of 57.7 billion dollars. “Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, and now it just doesn’t have that data anymore. All those data signals are gone, which basically means advertisers have trouble knowing whether or not a campaign was successful,” said Mark Zgutowicz, an analyst at investment banking and research firm Benchmark, as reported by Forbes.

The problem dates back to 2018, when the businessman’s biggest creation, Facebook, suffered a blow after newspapers including The Observer, The Guardian and The New York Times reported that UK political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had used the data. of more than 50 million Facebook users, provided by the company, to favor Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

The fact was taken to the United States Justice, Mark Zuckerberg had to testify in Congress and finally Facebook had to pay a million-dollar fine after the authorities considered that the company had violated the privacy rights of its users. Despite all this, Facebook continues to be the social network with the largest number of active users in the world.

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