Mark Zuckerberg discusses Facebook’s sketchy start in Harvard dorm video

Source: Paul Sakuma/AP

Here's a bit of Facebook history you probably don't know: Before Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and became a billionaire internet mogul, he was a Harvard sophomore who launched a "Hot or Not" clone out of his dorm room. The site was called Facemash, and Zuck's co-founder was a fellow student named Joe Green.

Facemash let users rate students by their looks, and it used female students' Harvard ID photos without their consent. Unsurprisingly, campus outrage caused Zuckerberg to shut down the site. The whole saga is detailed in this Harvard Crimson story from 2003.

On Tuesday, more than 13 years later, Mark Zuckerberg streamed a Facebook Live from his old Harvard dorm room, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, and a number of Harvard students. 

In the video, the group shares a hearty laugh about Zuck's old friend Joe Green — who declined to join his friend Mark at his next student venture, TheFacebook.com. According to Chan, Green's dad apparently thought Zuck was too sketchy to be a suitable business partner. 

"What was the [site] you got in trouble for?" Chan asks Zuckerberg during the Facebook Live. 

"Facemash," Zuck responds. 

Chan explains that Green "promised his dad he wouldn't get involved with anything that Mark ever did again" after the two men got in trouble for Facemash.

"So he had the option of joining me on Facebook early on, and turned it down," Zuckerberg says. The room erupts in giggles — Green could've made billions.

What happened to Green? 

Joe Green is doing just fine. He co-founded Causes and NationBuilder and is an investor and advisor at Asana. While knowing you missed out on unimaginable riches surely stings, one might argue that Green's dad was right to caution his son about throwing in with a controversial guy like teenage Mark Zuckerberg. Facemash was not a noble endeavor; arguably, the project isn't dissimilar to revenge porn, or the nonconsensual distribution of private photos online, which Facebook forbids (with some exceptions). 

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Live.
Source: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

"It was a prank, it was kind of funny, but also a little bit in poor taste," Zuckerberg said of Facemash in his Facebook Live, joking with Chan and the Harvard students about how he almost got kicked out of Harvard over it.

What does he mean by "poor taste"? Well, here are Zuck's own words as he built the site, which he recorded in a journal that was published on Facemash: "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." 

Can you blame Mr. Green for trusting his gut?

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Melanie is a writer covering technology and the future. She can be reached at melanie@mic.com.

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