Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is dealing with some bad press right now, but how long will it last and will it affect his image in the long term? New details regarding the early days of Facebook have been released in a Business Insider article, which outlines email and instant messenger exchanges between Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard students that had recruited him to work on their social network for their school.
While Facebook and Zuckerberg had faced legal cases regarding the true origin of the social network for a few years now, the courts always managed to rule in the general favor of the defendants. A $65 million settlement finally took the lawsuits out of the media for a while, but the newly revealed information regarding Facebook’s early days may portray Zuckerberg as an underhanded player in how Facebook really came to be.
Zuckerberg has been the face of Facebook since it launched six years ago, appearing on CNN to talk about its rising popularity, and becoming the front man for its corporate branding. Young and still in his twenties, Zuckerberg is somewhat of a protected poster child for the success of web-based business, adding wonder and excitement to the Facebook brand itself.
With Zuckerberg’s constant poise during interviews and demonstrations, many media pundits jest that Zuckerberg is actually to cautious in what information he provides about Facebook and his plans for the social network’s future. Even as investors grow anxious to invest in a Facebook IPO, Zuckerberg remains calculated in the details he provides while addressing the world about the company’s plans for going public.
His elusive strategy seems to have worked for the past few years, but the correspondence between Zuckerberg and former team members really puts the Facebook founder on blast.
As reported by Business Insider, the contents of Zuckerberg’s computer were not admitted as evidence during the investigation when Facebook and Zuckerberg were being sued. Yet the contents of that college-dorm computer have been accessed, providing an inside look at how Zuckerberg really handled the situation.
The correspondence suggests that Zuckerberg intentionally put off work with the original team members behind a Facebook-like site, while Zuckerberg himself created Facebook and essentially stole the idea from the people that had recruited him in the first place.
Additional details from Zuckerberg’s computer also suggest that he had hacked into email and school accounts in order to build his competing project, essentially proving his desire to steal the idea and make it better according to his own ideas, hopes and dreams.
Given Zuckerberg’s rather pristine image, damning evidence such as that brought to light by the Business Insider expose could damage Zuckerberg from here on. The intimate look at Zuckerberg’s college days as portrayed by the article also comes at a time where Hollywood is itching to tell the tale of Facebook’s origins.
Kevin Spacey’s movie about Facebook’s early days at Harvard has high expectations all its own, and takes the dramatic perspective of focusing on the animosity that occurred between Zuckerberg and fellow students while at school. Facebook had already spoken against certain aspects of the upcoming movie’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, though it may be more difficult to weasel around the murky legalities after these new details have come to light.
Despite all of this, Zuckerberg will likely come out fine from this PR hiccup, especially as many realize what Zuckerberg has done to maintain Facebook’s popularity and expedite its growth in the past six years. The true story of how Facebook began may strike fear in the hearts of those already wary of sharing their ideas.
But as I tell many hopeful entrepreneurs; there’s nothing new under the sun. If you thought of it, someone else has, too. It’s not about the idea itself, but about the execution. I’m not defending Zuckerberg’s actions, but it is a reminder in the realistic process surrounding business. There are people out there that will take advantage of a situation and use it to their advantage.
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