In two decades the behemoth social media platform has made a lot of money and brought in a lot of users — and made life worse for a lot of people.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, testifies during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis” in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024.
Twenty years ago last Sunday, Mark Zuckerberg launched “TheFacebook,” an online directory designed to let his fellow Harvard students search for each other by interest, house, or class. It was modeled after Friendster, a now-defunct social networking site that, well, was a lot like Facebook.
Zuckerberg touted TheFacebook’s robust privacy options in an interview with the Harvard Crimson at the time:
“You can limit who can see your information, if you only want current students to see your information, or people in your year, in your house, in your classes,” he said. “You can limit a search so that only a friend or a friend of a friend can look you up. People have very good control over who can see their information.”
As the Crimson noted, Zuckerberg was trying to restore his reputation on campus with TheFacebook. His previous creation was Facemash, a “Hot or Not?” clone that stole student photos from private house directories of Harvard undergraduates and asked visitors to decide which one was more physically attractive.
I don’t need to tell you what happened to Facebook next: The social networking site, now just an aspect of its parent company Meta, is used by nearly 68 percent of Americans, according to recent Pew data. On February 2, Meta added $197 billion to its market capitalization, the biggest single-session market value addition in history. Facebook, and Zuckerberg, remain incredibly powerful.