The Social Network: How did Facebook Start?

In 2004, a group of friends at college created an innovative new social media platform with the aim of connecting Harvard students through an online community. 

14 years later, Facebook is one the most influential social networks in the world, boasting approximately 2.2 billion monthly users. So how did a social network created in the confines of a Harvard dorm room go from being a student trend to an unprecedented, worldwide phenomenon? It all began in 2003 when Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg created an online program called “Facemash”, which allowed users to objectify fellow students by comparing photos of their faces and selecting who they deemed as “hotter”. 


While Zuckerberg faced punishment from the Harvard administration and narrowly escaped expulsion from the college altogether for his actions, “Facemash” provided the framework for what was to become FacebookOnline “facebooks” already existed at Harvard at the time. These were online directories that featured photos of students alongside some information about them. There wasn’t a single “Facebook” for the whole student body of Harvard University, which is why Zuckerberg came up with the idea to create one.


On February 4, 2004, the first iteration of Facebook was born, then known as and made available exclusively to Harvard students. The controversy surrounding Facebook began quickly. A week after he launched the site in 2004, Mark was accused by three Harvard seniors- Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Divya Narendra of having stolen the idea from them. According to the Winklevoss twins and Narendra, they had approached Zuckerberg asking for his assistance in creating a social network for Harvard students called "HarvardConnection".


This claim was explored in the 2010 Oscar-winning film The Social Network, which depicted Zuckerberg meeting with the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra to discuss their idea before creating his own without their knowledge. This allegation soon bloomed into a full-fledged lawsuit, as a competing company founded by the Harvard seniors sued Mark and Facebook for theft and fraud, starting a legal odyssey that continues to this day.  Following a lawsuit filed against Zuckerberg, eventually, all three received a settlement in 2008 that included 1.2 million shares in the company each.


Facebook proved extremely popular with Harvard students when it was first launched, so much so that the site was soon also made available to students at Stanford, Yale, and Columbia before expanding to numerous other colleges. By September 26, 2006, anyone in the world could make themselves a Facebook account, as long as they were at least 13 years old and had a valid email address. Lately, Facebook has become embroiled in controversy concerning the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and Brexit.


It was recently revealed that personal data from 87 million Facebook accounts had been wrongfully shared with Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm. This allowed Cambridge Analytica to target Facebook users with political advertisements during the 2016 US presidential elections and the UK referendum, which in turn could have swayed their stance on either topic.


Interestingly, The four most downloaded apps of the decade are all owned by Facebook- Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1bn (£760m), and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19bn.




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