Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption

Ben Mezrich wrote in this 2019 book:

* D’Angelo later asked Zuckerberg what path he was going to pursue in terms of dealing with the twins. Zuckerberg responded:

Yeah, I’m going to fuck them Probably in the year—*ear

In legal terms, the IMs may have been in a gray area—they were not a smoking gun—but they were still dangerous. With respect to Zuckerberg’s moral character at that point in his life, they were less gray than black-and-white. When in another IM he told his friend “You can be unethical and still be legal—that’s the way I live my life,” he was voicing a philosophy that would make future Facebook stockholders rightly nervous.

* After being left in the lurch by Zuckerberg and surprised by the launch of Facebook on February 4, 2004, the twins and their friend Divya scrambled to find programmers to finish ConnectU, which finally went live on May 21, 2004. Not content with merely sandbagging his classmates and the enormous first-mover advantage it afforded him, Zuckerberg appeared to be determined to add insult to injury. As reported in the Business Insider, Zuckerberg recounted to D’Angelo via IM:

We’ve exploited a flaw in their [the ConnectU] system and created another Cameron Winklevoss account. We copied his account like his profile and everything except I made his answers all like white supremacist.

The fake account Zuckerberg created to impersonate Cameron was not just an assault on Cameron’s character. It is also a revealing insight into how Zuckerberg had seen—and judged—the pair from the moment he’d met them in the Kirkland dining hall.

CAMERON WINKLEVOSS

Hometown: “I’m fucking privileged. where do you think I’m from?”

High School: You’re not even allowed to speak its name.

Ethnicity: Better than you.

Height: 7’4”

Body type: Athletic.

Hair Color: Aryan Blond

Eye Color: Sky Blue

Favorite Quote: “Homeless people are worth their weight in paper clips—I hate black people.”

Languages: WASP-y

Clubs: My dad got me into the Porcelain

Interests: Squandering my father’s money …

If he had indeed hacked into the website he was supposed to have helped build, in the twins’ opinion, Zuckerberg had potentially violated federal law. And the fake profile was just the start. In later IMs, Zuckerberg bragged about further hacking ConnectU’s code and deactivating user accounts, just for fun.

And there was more. In the spring of 2004, Cameron sent an email to the “tips” email inbox of the Harvard Crimson to notify them about Zuckerberg’s duplicitous behavior. A reporter named Tim McGinn was assigned to the story and began to investigate. Tim met with Cameron, Tyler, and Divya to hear their story and to review emails sent between Cameron and Mark. He then reached out to Zuckerberg for his side of the story. As Cameron was later informed, Zuckerberg went into the Harvard Crimson offices and tried to convince McGinn and his editor, Elisabeth Theodore, not to run with the story. When McGinn and Theodore decided to continue the investigation, Zuckerberg apparently hacked into McGinn’s Harvard email account to try and keep track of the investigation and whether or not a story would be written.

As Cameron learned, Zuckerberg was able to hack into McGinn’s email by exploiting the data in the Facebook database and violating the trust and privacy of his own users. More specifically, apparently he looked in the Facebook database for McGinn’s Facebook account password, in hopes that McGinn used the same password for his Facebook account as he did for his Harvard email account. He also reviewed Facebook logs for all of McGinn’s failed login attempts, thinking that McGinn had at some point mistakenly entered his Harvard email account password into Facebook when trying to log in. Armed with McGinn’s private information dug out of the bowels of Facebook, Zuckerberg was able to break into McGinn’s email and read all of his emails, including the ones he’d had with Cameron, Tyler, and Divya. Mark also saw email communication between McGinn and Theodore, in which Theodore recounted their meeting with Zuckerberg at the Harvard Crimson offices: “[Zuckerberg] did seem very sleazy. And I thought that some of his answers to the questions were not very direct or open. I also thought that his reaction to the website was very very weird.”

While Zuckerberg’s hack of ConnectU was arguably outside the university’s jurisdiction, Zuckerberg’s hacking of another student’s Harvard email account was not. In fact, it breached the Harvard computer network security and violated an individual student’s privacy (not to mention Facebook’s own privacy policy today) and Zuckerberg was already in trouble for similar violations as a result of the facemash.com debacle earlier that school year.

At the time, Harvard was unaware of Zuckerberg’s additional violations. A few years later, however, Zuckerberg’s second offense became public. Despite the fact that Zuckerberg was, and still is, a Harvard student to this day—he left indefinitely on a voluntary leave of absence to run Facebook after his sophomore year—Harvard has never taken any public action related to this hacking.

In total, the existence of that hard drive from Zuckerberg’s college computer must have meant he’d never risk a trial, and not just because his IMs regarding the twins would blemish his sterling reputation as a boy wonder CEO, but more importantly, because they would call into question the very basis of the revolution he was creating:

If you ever need info about anyone at Harvard just ask.

I have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS.

People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They “trust me.” Dumb fucks.

Private IMs between any other college kids could perhaps be explained away as the digital equivalent of “locker room” talk. But in the context of a college dropout whose mission was to “connect the world” and by doing so would hold the privacy of millions of people in the palm of his hand, they had the potential to permanently derail him. And certainly, to the twins, the IMs proved what they had been saying all along: Zuckerberg had knowingly wronged them. The image of a likable nerd who wore a hoodie and talked about building things that are “cool” was not the Mark Zuckerberg they knew.

* As Zuckerberg had so delicately pointed out in the fake profile he’d made of Cameron, Tyler and Cameron had been born into money. But what Zuckerberg didn’t know was that their father had built that privileged childhood for them through sweat, brains, and character. He’d propelled himself upward from a heritage of hardworking German immigrants, a family of coal miners, and he’d made it his mission to instill in the brothers a sense of right and wrong so strict that it could often be blinding. Winning didn’t matter if it didn’t happen the right way, for the right reasons.

Tyler simply couldn’t just walk away, not even for $65 million in cash.

* Shortly after they’d settled, the twins learned that Facebook had received a valuation that had been conducted by an independent, third-party valuation firm. This valuation, which Facebook used to comply with IRS rules and the US tax code, valued the twins’ Facebook shares at a quarter of the price they had used in reaching the settlement—was it another ear fucking?

It certainly sounded like securities fraud to the twins, the withholding a material, independent valuation during a settlement agreement that involved a securities transaction, but Facebook maintained that they had not withheld anything, or deceived anyone.

* Even Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, took a shot at them, publicly calling them “assholes” while onstage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference, hosted at the Aspen Institute. The twins’ offense? Wearing jackets and ties when they’d attended President Summers’s office hours in April of 2004 to discuss Zuckerberg’s duplicitous behavior—behavior they believed was a direct violation of the Harvard Student Handbook, specifically the part of the Handbook that stated: All students will be honest and forthcoming in their dealings with members of the Harvard community. In addition, there was an expectation of “intellectual honesty” and “respect for the dignity of others.”

Summers’s public attack seemed so unfair, so disgraceful for an educator, let alone a current Harvard professor, that the twins wrote an open letter to then Harvard president, Drew Faust, expressing their concerns regarding Summer’s conduct:

“… At [March] office hours, we [Cameron, Tyler, and Divya] waited in his [President Summers’s] reception area but were told that we would have to return next month because there were more students in the queue than time allowed. In April of 2004, we returned to office hours and were successful in meeting with President Summers. His manner was not inconsistent with his reputation and present-day admissions of being tactfully challenged. It was not his failure to shake hands with the three of us upon entering his office (doing so would have required him to take his feet off his desk and stand up from his chair), nor his tenor that was most alarming, but rather his scorn for a genuine discourse on deeper ethical questions, Harvard’s Honor Code, and its applicability or lack thereof.

We now further understand why our meeting was less than productive; someone who does not value ethics with respect to his own conduct, would likely have little interest in this subject as it related to the conduct of others. Perhaps there is a “variability of aptitude” for decency and professionalism among university faculty.

Regardless, it is deeply disturbing that a professor of this university openly admits to making character judgments of students based on their appearance. It goes without saying that every student should feel free to bring issues forward, dress how they see fit, or express themselves without fear of prejudice or public disparagement from a fellow member of the community, much less so from a faculty member.

Ironically, our choice of attire that day was made out of respect and deference to the office of the President. As the current President, we respectfully ask for you to address this unprecedented betrayal of the unique relationship between teacher and student. We look forward to your response.”

* Although Tyler and his brother had been raised in a family that now had money, their parents never let them lose touch with their family history, and not just their father’s coal mining ancestry. Carol’s forebearers were also German immigrants who came to the United States in the nineteenth century with nothing but their dreams. Carol’s grandfather was a fireman and hotelier in Rockaway Beach, her uncle served in the U.S. Army during World War II and fought in the Pacific Ocean theater, and her father was a homicide detective. Like Howard’s family, Carol’s family embodied good Christian morals and believed that a person’s word meant something. Howard and Carol had grown up believing that the world was a place where honesty and the ability to work hard were respected above all else. Winning was not what mattered: what mattered was that you gave your best effort and conducted yourself with the highest integrity and character.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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