It seems Facebook was founded by a bunch of misogynistic assholes. Should we be mad?
You've probably heard about Ben Mezrich's frenetic new Facebook tell-all, the cumbersome The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. As XX's Megan Angelo discusses, apparently it paints the wunderkind Harvard founders, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, as a couple of crass frat boys manqués, who use their newfound success to objectify women in a way normally denied to the average tech nerd. As the book tells it, Zuckerberg founded the networking juggernaut after being spurned by a girl, with the immortal words, "***** is a bitch. I need something to take my mind off her." As Angelo puts it,
he connection between not getting any and inventing Facebook would seem preposterous, if Mezrich weren't so consistent in portraying Facebook's founders as sexually frustrated. He measures each step of Facebook's success in sexual currency. When the site goes viral at Harvard, Saverin and Zuckerberg take two girls into a bar bathroom and have sex in adjoining stalls, and when it picks up buzz on the venture capital circuit, Zuckerberg goes home with a Victoria's Secret model. Even more damning: When Facebook is still in its early stages, Zuckerberg fantasizes about displaying girls' photos next to shots of farm animals and having people choose the more attractive image.
Damning indeed. The problem, of course, is that the book is apparently unreliable. Yeah, maybe it's not a shocker that the subjects should distance themselves, but the chorus of those condemning the author's sensationalistic methods has gotten loud enough that his publicist has clarified,"this is not reportage. It is big juicy fun." Charges of inaccuracy plagued Mezrich's last bestseller, Bringing Down the House, and as the Times remarks, he admitted to "fabricating" characters and situations for that book. Various situations in the latest, already earmarked for a movie, have already been debunked and accused of inaccuracy.
However dubious the author's claims to journalistic integrity, however, it's hard to credit that he could have fabricated the general ethos of sexism out of whole cloth - and it's not that hard to believe. And Angelo's larger point - that this sort of boys' club misogyny dominates Silicon Valley - is well-taken. But the issue becomes, for me, what to do about it. I doubt any of us uses Facebook because we particularly admire its founders or its original mission of excluding all but Ivy Leaguers. This, of course, is not the same thing as objecting to an institution because we find the beliefs or actions of founder offensive, but at the same time, what we've learned is that these dudes are dicks. As far as I know, they haven't backed these beliefs up with offensive activism, money to despicable organizations, or policies bar women they deem unattractive. (Had they gone through with that farm animal thing, well, yes, a boycott would be in order.) Had people known all this when the organization was founded? Maybe it wouldn't be so big. But we didn't, and it is, and they've sold.
And Facebook, whatever its petty intents, has eclipsed them: the recent response to the Iranian revolution is proof of this. If it still caters to appalling or infantile groups, it has also become a vehicle for women to speak out and congregate, for the like-minded to connect, for freedom of expression. In some ways, this is the best revenge. It's always tricky to know whether to condemn something that was founded on something bad, or complex (like Planned Parenthood, not to give Facebook that kind of credit) but has grown beyond it. One could argue that today, we shouldn't tolerate such recent antecedents. But by the same token, the evolution - and the repudiation - has been swifter than in earlier times. That also is the effect of the internet. And the fact that these guys' names will be (even if unfairly) linked in the public mind with the work "douchebaggery" is, too.