You wouldn’t be alone if you watched the 2010 film “The Social Network” to prepare for Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress this week.
“What was FaceMash, and is it still up and running?” Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) asked Facebook’s chief executive, who faced questions before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. The company had struggled to address widespread concerns about how it handles data and sows political turmoil across the world, triggering possible congressional regulation.
Zuckerberg, 33, paused and smirked. “No, congressman. FaceMash was a prank website that I launched in college, in my dorm room, before I started Facebook,” he said.
“You put up two pictures of two women and decided which one was the better, more attractive of the two, is that right?” Long asked.
Zuckerberg responded, with an emphasis on his youth at the time: “That is an accurate description of the prank website that I made when I was a sophomore in college.”
The episode was recounted in a magazine article and later in the opening minutes of “The Social Network,” depicting Zuckerberg in a revenge-fueled coding binge.
The short-lived FaceMash website began with a love-scorned Zuckerberg in 2003, who began to drink and write in his blog about an idea to hack university servers and download photos of students without permission, according to a 2008 profile in Rolling Stone. Then, fellow students could vote on their attractiveness using an algorithm that ranked the selections.
“I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10 p.m. and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland [dorm] facebook is open on my desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics,” he wrote that night. “I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.”
Then, before midnight, another epiphany came to Zuckerberg.
“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,” he wrote.
Harvard’s student newspaper, the Crimson, reported afterward that Zuckerberg was accused of “breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy” but was allowed to remain at the school.
Zuckerberg said the film was an “unclear truth” without actually naming “The Social Network,” and rejected the assertion that FaceMash was the germ that transformed into Facebook, though he conceded that they were both created at about the same time.
Long refocused his questioning on the Trump-supporting commentators Diamond and Silk, who said they have been censored by Facebook for their conservative views. The issue came up multiple times throughout the hearing.
“You’re the guy to fix this. We’re not. You need to save your ship,” Long said.