Dave Eggers' new novel, The Circle, is about a young woman who lands a job at a massive Silicon Valley company clearly modeled after Facebook. Funny thing, though: early Facebook employee Kate Losse already wrote about her experience in a 2012 memoir, The Boy Kings. Based on the The Circle's introduction alone, it seems like Eggers may be well aware of Losse — and had no qualms about ripping off her story.
New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren lavishly praised the The Circle last weekend, calling it "a great story, with a fascinating protagonist, sharply drawn supporting characters and an exciting, unpredictable plot." The Wall Street Journal said it "carries the potential to change how the world views its addicted, compliant thrall to all things digital." Sounds like a groundbreaking read! If only said "fascinating protagonist" hadn't written about those "exciting" events first.
The basic synopses of the two books are similar enough to warrant suspicion, but Losse published a Medium post today noting specific parallels between the very first chapters of The Boy Kings and The Circle. For example:
Eggers’ “Mae Holland” is hired from university to work as one of the first employees in “Customer Experience” (where I was hired as one of the first employees in Customer Support). Her name eerily echoes mine in its phonetic structure: Katherine Penney Losse/Maebelline Renner Holland & in short form as well: “Kate Losse/Mae Holland.”
Like Mae, Losse was the first CS employee under Jake, whose name is Jared in The Circle. Consider this paragraph from The Boy Kings:
“You’ll basically be answering emails from users,” he said, “Jake will teach you to do everything,” passing us off to another Stanford guy, just hired weeks before, who would teach us how to manage Facebook’s fledgling universe.
Juxtaposed with this sentence from The Circle:
“Jared will be doing your training, and he’ll be your main contact here at Customer Experience.”
Want more? There's so much more!
Here's Losse on passwords:
Jake, Oliver, and I huddled around the conference table with our laptops and some Cokes from the fridge, which Rochester had shown us proudly was full with every caffeinated soda we could desire. Jake introduced us to the janky application through which user’s emails to Facebook flowed. Once we learned how the software worked, Jake taught us, without batting an eyelid, the master password by which we could log in as any Facebook user and access all their messages and data. “You can’t write it down,” he said, and so we committed it to memory, just the first of many secrets and customs we would learn as we became indoctrinated into our lives as Internet social administrators.
Eggers on passwords:
“’It’s crucial that all company devices are password-protected, so I gave you one. It’s written here.’ He handed her a slip of paper bearing a series of digits and numerals and obscure typographical symbols. “I hope you can memorize it today and then throw this away. Deal?”
"They send a message to Customer Experience, and it gets routed to one of us.”
Losse on Friday meetings:
On Friday afternoons we gathered for All Hands meetings. Mark Zuckerberg would stand somewhere in the office, his posture unusually straight for someone dressed casually in a joke T-shirt (around this time he preferred one that said, “I love Sloths”) and sandals. Everyone would gather round, sitting on desks with flip-flops dangling or on the floor with legs crossed. We all watched in rapt attention, smiling, as there was much to smile about: We had so much to do, together, and the All Hands were where we got our motivation for the next weeks and months. Mark referred to all of us in the All Hands meeting as a “Facebook family”, and even though most of us had just met, the kinship was palpable. It would be profitable for us to get along: if we liked each other, it would be easier to accomplish the high goals Mark was setting out for us: more Facebook networks, more Facebook features, an ever-faster flow of information.
Eggers on Friday meetings:
"At the end of every Circle workweek was Dream Friday, when Circlers gathered and were inspired — by products in development or a milestone the company had reached."
"I just want to emphasize the community aspect of this job. We see this workplace as a community, and every person who works here is part of that community."
Losse on video innovation:
While Ariston and Thrax did not invent video, they were compelled to bring it to the company and claim it as Facebook’s own. The would-be kings did not come to Facebook to only half-digitize the world, to own a record of text and still images. They wanted to own moving images. They wanted to see everything. They wanted to film everything. They wanted no limitation on the documentation of our lives, or the degree to which they could access the lives of others.
The lack of action or purpose in the test videos perfectly represented the motivation behind these projects: to technologize everything, just to say that we did. The televising and digitizing of private life was the new colonialism: without any continents left to explore and own, private life had become the last frontier. “Television Rules the Nation,” a hidden quote that Thrax and Ariston inserted in the header of the Facebook Video page, was visible only to those who knew to highlight it with cursors.
Eggers on video innovation:
“Lionel can give me access to any of cameras he wants. It’s just like friending someone, but now with access to all their live feeds. If you have 1,000 friends, they have 10 cameras each, you now have 10,000 options for live footage. If you have 5,000 friends, you have 50,000 options. Soon you’ll be able to connect to millions of cameras around the world. Again, imagine the implications!”
I reached out to Eggers for comment, but haven't heard back and don't expect I will, since he hasn't made a peep since Losse began pointing out the similarities between the two books earlier this month. Losse (whom I've met) said she's equally outraged by the mainstream media's ignorance as she is with Eggers for possibly appropriating her story.
"It's a published book," Losse said in a phone interview. "It's out there. These reporters need to learn how to use Google and be aware of the field." We can chalk up the radio silence to more than just cluelessness; it illustrates industry bias in terms of what and who the media thinks is worthy of coverage. "It's self-perpetuating," Losse said, "and it makes it harder for women to be taken seriously."
Losse pointed out that this isn't the first time Eggers has "borrowed" other people's stories: he's written about a Sudanese child soldier and a Katrina survivor, although in both those cases he named the source of his material. It takes an egregious amount of entitlement to think it's chill to straight-up poach another author's story. Let's say he's never even heard of Losse; the mainstream media's erasure of Losse's memoir, purposeful or otherwise, is still indicative of pervasive sexism, as Losse wrote in a Medium post:
Likewise, society makes assumptions about women that make us guilty by default: our work is supposedly minor, less valuable, and limited to the personal, where the work of a white man is presumed to be “universal”, “essential”, and relevant to all. This assumption is how, when I published The Boy Kings about working at Facebook for five years and the impact Facebook has had on society, the media made the sexist assumption that this book was not important, because how could a woman writing about technology be important? How could a woman doing anything be important? The assumption the media makes in these instances is that something is not important unless a familiar, male white face does it.
Losse said there's a bright side to all this: it's so obvious that people are taking notice.
"It's so clear what happened that it allows us to see not only how it's affected me but how the industry is working to suppress women's writing and exalt men," she said.
Don't cry for her, though — just buy her book.
"A lot of people have given me their condolences, and it sucks, but I'm not depressed," Losse said. "I don't feel like [Eggers] has won anything — this all just makes it clear that mainstream media outlets will take his writing more seriously than a woman's. Hopefully this will expose that."
Eggers sent us a statement:
"I've just heard about the claims of Kate Losse that my novel, The Circle, was somehow based on a work of nonfiction she wrote. I want to make it clear that I have never read and have never heard of her book before today. I did not, in fact, read any books about any internet companies, or about the experiences of anyone working at any of these companies, either before or while writing The Circle. I avoided all such books, and did not even visit any tech campuses, expressly because I didn't want The Circle to seem to be based on any extant companies or upon the experiences of any employees of any extant companies. Because The Circle has not been released, it's my understanding that Kate Losse has not read my novel yet, so I trust that when she does read it she'll understand that I have not read, and certainly never lifted anything from, her book."