He was placed on probation at Harvard, sued by two former classmates for $65 million and forced to testify before Congress for a data breach that may have impacted 87 million Americans. But Mark Zuckerberg, innovator of the social media world, has soldiered on despite all odds to create an online kingdom that has forever changed the way we socialize.
The early years
Mark Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984, in White Plains, N.Y., and raised in nearby Dobbs Ferry. At age 12, the young Zuckerberg created “Zucknet,” a platform used for inter-office communication at his father’s dental practice.
Zuckerberg attended the Academy of Phillips Exeter, an exclusive preparatory high school in New Hampshire. For his senior year project, Zuckerberg wrote a music player called the Synapse Media Player, a precursor to iTunes Genius. The program utilized artificial intelligence to study the user’s listening habits and recommend music the user might enjoy. Both Microsoft and AOL expressed interest in buying Synapse at $1 million and hiring Zuckerberg as a developer, but he turned them down and went on to Harvard University.
A Harvard legend
At Harvard University, Zuckerberg quickly built a name for himself as the go-to computer programmer on campus. During his sophomore year, Zuckerberg hacked the Harvard University student database to create Facemash, a controversial program that randomly selected two students of the same gender and posted their pictures, asking viewers to vote on their attractiveness. The administrative board at Harvard came down hard on Zuckerberg for acquiring private information. The coding genius was forced to take down the site and was placed on probation. Zuckerberg was duly chastised, but he had learned an important lesson about the addictive quality of an interactive social network.
Facebook is born
In November 2003, Harvard students Divya Narendra and twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss approached Zuckerberg for help in creating a social network for Harvard students. “UConnect” would feature photos of each student, along with their personal information and useful links. Narendra and the Winklevoss twins wanted Zuckerberg’s help with the programming. Zuckerberg agreed, while harboring an idea for a social network of his own.
On Feb. 4, 2004, Zuckerberg, along with roommates Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz, and friend Eduardo Saverin, launched TheFacebook.com, an online directory to connect Harvard students. The site, managed out of Zuckerberg’s dorm room, became an instant hit. When asked to comment on the network for the Harvard student paper, The Crimson, Zuckerberg said, “I have no idea why it’s so popular. I was pretty surprised.” Zuckerberg also reassured the Harvard student body that the program would never be used for profit and would likely not be expanded beyond Harvard. Just one month later, though, TheFacebook was open to students attending Stanford, Columbia and Yale. Soon afterward, the expansion included all Ivy League and Boston-area schools. Zuckerberg dropped out of college after completing his sophomore year to pursue full time the development of his website, now called Facebook.com. By the end of 2004, the site had 1 million users. One year later, with the site open to high school students as well, the user base ballooned into 5.5 million. In September 2006, the website was open to anyone over the age of 13 and within three months, boasted a staggering 12 million users. Less than a year later, in October 2007, that number had exploded to 50 million.
The explosive growth rate attracted interest among venture capital firms, including Accel Partners, which invested $12.7 million in Facebook in 2005. Since then, the company has received multiple acquisition offers from the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo, but Zuckerberg refused to sell. He remains CEO and president of Facebook. The pioneering social media platform hosts an average 1.62 billion daily users and has a market cap of $598 billion.
In January 2010, TIME magazine named Zuckerberg Person of the Year.
“The social network created by Mark connected almost every tenth person on the planet,” Richard Stengel, TIME editor-in-chief, said.
The social media platform hatched in a Harvard dorm room has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Zuckerberg’s road to fortune and fame was far from smooth.
First, in September 2004, the coding genius was sued by the Winklevoss twins and Narendra for allegedly stealing their idea for UConnect and using it to create Facebook. The case dragged on for years, until Zuckerberg agreed to pay a settlement of $65 million in 2008.
Ten years later, Facebook was under investigation again, this time on a much larger scale.
On March 17, 2018, The New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested personal information of 80 million Facebook users through the Facebook app, “This is Your Digital Life.” The data was allegedly used to support political campaigns, including those of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
In April 2018, Zuckerberg testified before Congress, taking full responsibility for the hack. He reassured the public that the company would strengthen its security measures to protect against further data breaches; however, the public was skeptical. Facebook lost an estimated 15 million users after the scandal broke, and the publicly traded company fell $35 billion in value.
Facebook has faced several smaller breaches since what has been dubbed “The Great Hack,” but Zuckerberg has persevered through them all.
Net worth and personal life
In 2010, Forbes magazine featured Mark Zuckerberg as the youngest billionaire on its famous list. Zuckerberg’s net worth at the time was $4 billion. In 2015, Zuckerberg took seventh place in Forbes’ ratings of the 400 richest people in the United States, with a net worth of $40.3 billion.
As part of his business strategy, Zuckerberg has made a point of purchasing any business that poses a potential threat to Facebook. This includes the acquisition of Instagram in April 2012 and WhatsApp in October 2014.
The most recent statistics on Facebook users show that there are 2.6 billion active monthly users on the social media platform. Every 60 seconds, there are 317,000 status updates, 400 new users, 147,000 photos uploaded and 54,000 shared links on Facebook.
Zuckerberg has given generously to numerous causes, including a donation of more than $100 million for the school system of Newark, N.J. Most recently, Facebook has matched $10 million of donations to the CDC to help fund research for COVID-19.
As of May 5, 2020, the company has a market cap of $600.8 billion. Zuckerberg owns over 375 million Facebook shares and has a worth of $78.6 billion.
He and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, live in Palo Alto, Calif., with their two daughters, Maxima and August.