Mark Zuckerberg Isn't the Brat He Was at Harvard

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
Jan. 23 2014 11:47 AM

Mark Zuckerberg Isn't the Brat He Once Was

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The Winklevoss twins may disagree.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Ten years ago this spring, Mark Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old Harvard-going know-it-all. Like a lot of 19-year-olds, he sometimes acted like a brat.

For example, there's the story of how, in May 2004, Zuckerberg hacked into the email accounts of Harvard Crimson staffers. Zuckerberg was worried the Crimson was going to write a nasty article about him. He decided the best way to figure out if an article was happening was to read emails sent among Crimson staffers. To do that, he was going to have to log in to a staffer's email account.

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The problem was: to do that, he would have to know that staffer's email password. And no staffer was going to volunteer that information.

So what did 19-year-old Zuckerberg do? He looked up the passwords Crimson staffers were using on Facebook and tried logging into their email accounts using those passwords.

The trick worked, and Zuckerberg broke in and read a bunch of emails between staffers named Elisabeth Theodore (who went on to clerk for a Supreme Court justice) and Timothy McGinn (now an attorney in New York).

Kind of bratty, right? This was around the same time that Zuckerberg was writing a bunch of nasty instant messages about his friends, Facebook co-founders, and Facebook users.

Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuckerberg: Just ask.
Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?
Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.
Zuckerberg: I don't know why.
Zuckerberg: They "trust me"
Zuckerberg: Dumb f----s.

Following that spring 10 years ago, Zuckerberg's life started to change very fast. He moved to California, and his little dorm room project quickly became a multibillion-dollar company. He became world famous. Eventually, so did his bratty antics from when he was 19 years old. There was a book about those antics, and then a movie.

But now it's been 10 years since 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old writing stupid things on AOL Instant Messenger. It's time to note that, over those 10 years, Mark Zuckerberg has become one of the best people on the planet.

In his personal affect, he's remained modest. He lives in a nice but not mansion-like house. Sure, he bought all of his neighbors' houses to ensure his own privacy. But he paid a fortune, and he didn't kick them out of their homes. He drives a Volkswagen.

All that is nice, and makes him easy to like. But more importantly, Zuckerberg has also become one of the most generous people you've heard of. It started back in 2012, when, shortly before Facebook went public, Zuckerberg announced he would donate $100 million to New Jersey schools. Then he launched and helped fund a political action committee aimed at reforming immigration.

A cynic might say that both of those efforts are also helpful to Zuckerberg. The donation ahead of the initial public offering might have bought him some good press at an important time. The PAC might help Facebook hire cheaper engineering talent. But two recent acts of charity by Zuckerberg trump this cynical view.

First, in December, came news that Zuckerberg plans to give 18 million Facebook shares to charity. That's a  roughly $1 billion donationIt's a huge number. In fact, it's such a huge number that when the news broke, it was hard to imagine how much good $1 billion can do.

Then, on Wednesday, came clarity. The San Jose Mercury News repored that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, made a donation to a health clinic in East Palo Alto, near Facebook's headquarters. The clinic is for people who can't afford health care. The donation will allow the clinic to double the number of patients it sees, from 11,000 patients a year to more than 20,000. The donation means the clinic can expand into mammography, optometry, and podiatry. There are individuals in Northern California right now who will survive breast cancer or see better or move better because of that money.

And guess how much Zuckerberg and Chan donated? $5 million. Now, $5 million is more than most of us can hope to earn throughout our entire lives. It's a lot of money. And clearly it's enough to make an impact on the lives of thousands of people. It will literally make them healthier. But $5 million is just 1/200 of the amount Zuckerberg plans to donate. He's going to do this 199 more times. And that's just for starters.

So yeah, Zuckerberg once told a friend that he planned to screw over the Winklevoss brothers—he said he was going to screw them "in the ear," to be exact. But now, 10 years later? We're lucky to have him.

Nicholas Carlson is chief correspondent at Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.

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