Mark Zuckerberg, the son of two doctors, started to learn programming via a private tutor in middle school. He graduated from the private high school Phillips Exeter Academy in 2002 (tuition cost $28,500 then, it was $55,800 in 2018-19) and went to Harvard. At Harvard he got dumped by his girlfriend and then went to his dorm and LiveJournaled his way through starting Face Mash, a site that stole pictures of women students from the school’s online directories (face books) and generated two random ones. Visitors to the site would then pick which woman was hotter. Here's his blog entry:
start_page (“Harvard Face Mash | The Process”) ;
print “My mommy told me to take down this page, so it’s down temporarily.”;: (0);
I need to think of something to occupy my mind.
now I just need an idea…
9:48pm. I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland facebook is open on my computer desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive. It’s not such a great idea and probably not even funny, but Billy comes up with the idea of comparing two people from the facebook, and only sometimes putting a farm animal in there. Good call Mr. Olson! I think he’s onto something.
11:09pm. Yea, it’s on. I’m not exactly sure how the farm animals are going to fit into this whole thing (you can’t really ever be sure with farm animals…), but I like the idea of comparing two people together. It gives the whole thing a very Turing feel, since people’s ratings of the pictures will be more implicit than, say, choosing a number to represent each person’s hotness like they do on hotornot.com. The other thing we’re going to need is a lot of pictures. Unfortunately, Harvard doesn’t keep a public centralized facebook so I’m going to have to get all the images from the individual houses that people are in. And that means no freshman pictures…drats
Anyway the school took the site down in a few days and he almost got expelled for it. After digging through the different Harvard house face books and stealing the photos to make Face Mash, he thought that there should be a centralized, online Harvard face book. So he and his friends started making it. They launched thefacebook in February of 2004. In March they rolled it out at Yale, Stanford and Columbia. Then all the Ivy leagues. Then BU and NYU… and by the fall semester that year most university emails let you sign up. In August of 2004 Zuck made Sean Parker (ex CIA, ex Napster) president and a couple weeks later they secured their first substantial investment from Peter Thiel. Peter Thiel is also the evil billionaire behind Elon Musk’s first billion, through the sale of PayPal. Thiel’s essentially responsible for Zuck and Musk, two people pulling the levers of power who have no business being anywhere near the levers of power.
So yeah, the guy that got drunk after being dumped, stole women’s photos from a school database and made a site that demeans them is currently in charge of 3.69 billion facebook and Instagram users’ privacy, data, photos and DMs. He is in charge of what news and electoral ads they see, or don’t see. And his only motivation is to keep people on the site as long as possible so they make more content for him to sell, and see more ads that he’s sold. Cool. That’s fine.
The results have not been great! Facebook’s a breeding ground for right-wing conspiracy theories like QAnon, Pizzagate, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and flat earthers. Facebook’s a big part of how white-supremacist groups recruit and organize. Practically every Boomer is MAGA now. I’m writing this on the day of the first presidential debate. There have been 730,000 interactions on facebook related to the debate so far. 30% of the interactions are from 5 Fox News posts, 18% from 5 Brietbart posts and 11% from 3 Ben Shapiro posts. Facebook’s a bigger propagator of right-wing propaganda than Fox News is, and it’s not particularly close.
This September, data scientist Sophie Zhang quit Facebook and wrote a 6,600 word internal memo detailing the way Facebook’s actions and inactions have impacted elections and coups. From Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac and Pranav Dixit’s story at Buzzfeed:
Zhang discovered inauthentic activity — a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts— in Bolivia and Ecuador but chose “not to prioritize it,” due to her workload. The amount of power she had as a mid-level employee to make decisions about a country’s political outcomes took a toll on her health.
It took Facebook’s leaders nine months to act on a coordinated campaign “that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people.” Two weeks after Facebook took action against the perpetrators in July, they returned, leading to a game of “whack-a-mole” between Zhang and the operatives behind the fake accounts, which are still active.
In Azerbaijan, Zhang discovered the ruling political party “utilized thousands of inauthentic assets... to harass the opposition en masse.” Facebook began looking into the issue a year after Zhang reported it. The investigation is ongoing.
Zhang and her colleagues removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections.”
In February 2019, a NATO researcher informed Facebook that "he’d obtained Russian inauthentic activity on a high-profile U.S. political figure that we didn’t catch." Zhang removed the activity, “dousing the immediate fire,” she wrote.
In Ukraine, Zhang “found inauthentic scripted activity” supporting both former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a pro–European Union politician and former presidential candidate, as well as Volodymyr Groysman, a former prime minister and ally of former president Petro Poroshenko. “Volodymyr Zelensky and his faction was the only major group not affected,” Zhang said of the current Ukrainian president.
After becoming aware of coordinated manipulation on the Spanish Health Ministry’s Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang helped find and remove 672,000 fake accounts “acting on similar targets globally” including in the US.
In India, she worked to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence" the local elections taking place in Delhi in February. Facebook never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down.
I’d say it makes Musk seem harmless, and that I wish Zuck would just sell us stupid cars and flamethrowers and leave us for Mars too, but Musk did just promise the US government 1 hour weapons delivery via Space X rocket to anywhere in the world. Facebook and Zuckerberg aren’t equipped to be the world’s arbiters of information. Partly because they’re not capable, sure. But mostly because money is the only thing that matters to them.
Zuckerberg is a rich kid nerd asshole who grew up to be a billionaire nerd asshole. In the movie about Zuckerberg’s backstabbing path towards creating facebook, The Social Network, Zuck’s first business cards at facebook had “I’m CEO, Bitch” printed on them, because Sean Parker said the phrase while giving Zuck a pump-up speech. I thought for sure that had to be one of the artistic embellishments Sorkin took. And I was right. In reality, Zuck’s first business cards at facebook had “I’m CEO, Bitch” printed on them because Zuck himself said the phrase all the time!
Larry Ellison (Tesla board member, IDF funder, billionaire) bought Hawaii’s sixth largest island. In 2014 Zuck bought 700 acres of Hawaii’s fourth largest island, Kauai, and kept everyone out by building a 6-foot-high stonewall. In late 2016 Zuck brought at least eight lawsuits to court, suing over 300 Hawaiians who are descendants of Kuleana tenant farmers and therefore technically owners of small parts of “his” 700 acres. In a statement he posted on his Facebook, Zuck said "We love Hawaii and we want to be good members of the community and preserve the environment. We look forward to working closely with the community for years to come." Buying yourself an estate nearly the size of Central Park, walling yourself in, and stealing native land en masse via lawsuit doesn’t sound like being a good member of the community to me. In February 2017 he dropped at least some of the lawsuits, including the one which went after 300 Kuleana tenant farmer heirs. In 2018 he bought 89 more acres, 21 of which were Kuleana farmland.
Zuckerberg donated $75 million to put his name on a hospital in San Francisco in 2015. By 2019 enough people caught on to the hospital overbilling patients so badly that the Mayor had to step in and order that they change billing practices.
In 2018 his foundation (The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is actually an LLC, which is less transparent), Bill Gates’ foundation and Bloomberg’s foundation funded Opportunity Insights, a policy think tank run by ex-Obama Ivy League economists. According to the website, co-director Nathaniel Hendren’s work “is motivated by the question: Do markets provide equal opportunity?” Nathaniel, if you’re reading, let me save you some time: the answer is no.
Opportunity Insights’ main focus is upward mobility. They seem fine. I don’t know. But my gut says that if Gates and Zuck and Bloomberg really wanted to solve things like upward mobility they'd, ya know, redistribute all their wealth. Instead, they’re funding Harvard and Brown economists. All that complicated econ/data talk makes my eyes glaze over, but to me it seems like three of the richest men in the world are paying the country’s smartest economists to solve issues that they themselves are the direct cause of.
I’ve got my own Opportunity Insight: Gates’ $115 billion, Zuck’s $110 billion and Bloomberg’s $50 billion could directly fund federal social programs. We’ll give the 567,715 homeless people $1,500/month roofs over their head for a year so they can get on their feet. Then we’ll double the federal SNAP budget for the next 4 years. We’ll have $24.4 billion left after ending homelessness and hunger.
The women he demeaned in college, the responsibility of being the world’s leading arbiter of information, being a good neighbor, the wellbeing of hospital patients, solving upward mobility...none of that matters to Mark Zuckerberg. Mark Zuckerberg and his bank account are the only things that matter to Mark Zuckerberg. After all, he is the CEO, bitch.