Sunday Times 2

‘The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network’

Ex-Facebook worker lifts lid on sex, sleaze and secrets of Facebook and its 'little emperor'

It is supposed to be one of the most dynamic companies the world has ever seen.But until recently Facebook was deeply sexist and stuck in a 1950s mentality that was a cross between a frat house and Mad Men, a new book by a former senior staff member claims.
Female workers at the social network were propositioned for threesomes or given crude insults like ‘I want to put my teeth in your ass’, Katherine Losse claims.

Katherine Losse

Katherine Losse

Lower ranking employees who were invariably female were treated like ‘second class help’ and banned from a conference unless they worked as coat checkers whilst there.Meanwhile in between toga parties and late night ‘hackathons’ male engineers raced skateboards around desks as if they were in the X Games.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is compared to Napoleon and branded a ‘little emperor’ who created a company where his staff could ‘idol worship’ him.On his 22nd birthday female workers were even asked to wear a T-shirt with his face on it in his honour.

The claims are in ‘The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network’ by Losse who worked for Facebook between 2005 and 2010.

She was employee no.51 and worked her way up from customer relations to a senior marketing role before becoming the speechwriter for Zuckerberg. At its core she claims that Facebook is all about creating a ‘popular techno frat that didn’t exist at Stanford or Harvard’ where men can engage in endless competition with each other.

Chosen programmers were treated like ‘prodigal sons’ – whilst women were just along for the ride.She writes: ‘The older men in the office could be unbridled in their wide ranging desires for sex and attention as the youngest ones. During an away trip to Las Vegas a group of Facebook engineers filmed themselves inviting girls up to their table in a club then shouting ‘Leave, you’re not pretty enough!’ when they didn’t like them.

Losse writes: ‘The company’s entire human resources architecture was constructed on the reactionary model of an office from the 1950s in which men with so-called masculine qualities (being technical, breaking things, moving fast) was idealised as brilliant and visionary whilst everyone else (particularly the nontechnical employees on the customer support team who were mostly female and sometime, unlike the white and Asian engineering team, black) were assumed to be duller, incapable of quick and intelligent thought. It was like Mad Men but real and happening the current moment, as if in repudiation of fifty years of social progress…
‘…Facebook it seemed wanted to have it all: to be the new and scrappy kid on the block and have the feel of an old boys’ club that had been around forever’.

It wasn’t until the arrival of chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in 2009 that things actually changed.
In an interview to promote the book Losse said: ‘I think it had made a lot of strides forward.’Obviously, Sheryl’s arrival really helped with that because when she came in, she said, “I really care about this. I want this to be a great place for women to work.” I think it’s taken some work, but I think it’s getting much better.’

Losse recounts that during her stint at Facebook there were some good times.During a 2005 trip to Lake Tahoe in California she recalls how she and Zuckerberg along with some others got drunk on cheap wine from Trader Joe’s and sang along to Green Day and Sublime hits ‘so loudly we were essentially doing karaoke’.

Mark Zuckerberg

On another occasion she recalls with tenderness how he also completed a rendition of the Oasis hit ‘Wonderwall’ in a similar fashion on a guitar.Then there was the inevitable excess of Sean Parker, the bad boy founder of Napster who was Facebook’s first president.

At the 2007 Coachella music festival, Losse and some other Facebook staff were relaxing at their rented house having watched bands like Daft Punk when Parker showed up at the house with ‘a doctor’s bag full of drugs, which everyone politely declined.’This may seem strange but to Losse there was a logic.

She writes: ‘Standard methods of being bad, like doing drugs, seemed inefficient and superfluous to us.’
Such weirdness was never far away, such as when Facebook bought everyone a matching American Apparel jacket which some programmers wore every day for months.

In 2009 Facebook moved again to a huge ‘campus’ in a building that was once occupied by Hewlett-Packard.
Zuckerberg’s desk was deliberately put right in the building’s dead centre on a lower floor, almost underground. Losse writes: ‘He called the building a bunker’.

In the book, Zuckerberg himself is given the most brutal character assassination since the 2010 drama ‘The Social Network’ about the founding of the company.Losse depicts him as socially awkward and aloof, branding him a ‘little emperor’ and somebody who considered those who were not tech-obsessed as ‘not people’.

In reference to his long term girlfriend Priscilla Chan, who is now his wife, she claims he once said: ‘I dated a model once who was really hot, but my girlfriend is actually smart’.Elsewhere she writes that in the office Zuckerberg ‘walked with his chest puffed out, Napoleon-style, his curly hair jumping forward from his forehead as if to announce him in advance’.
On his 22nd birthday, things took an even more bizarre turn: women were told to wear a T-shirt with Mark’s picture on it and men had to wear Adidas flip flops in tribute to Zuckerberg’s style.

Losse writes: ‘The gender coding was clear: women were to declare allegiance to Mark, and men were to become Mark, or to at least dress like him. I decided that this was more than I could stomach and stayed home to play sick that day. I was the only one.’
Even though he now is deeply into self-improvement, in the early days of Facebook Zuckerberg seemed not so keen to champion his intellect.

Next to the question of his favourite book he wrote on his profile page: ‘I don’t read’.Losse says that Zuckerberg had an ‘imperial voice’ and used to finish meetings by pumping his fist and saying: ‘Domination!’

In one of the most bizarre episodes in the book, when he introduces Sandberg to the team for the first time, Zuckerberg told them: ‘When I met Sheryl the first thing I said was that she had really good skin. And she does. Everyone should have a crush on Sheryl’.
On a press trip to Brazil, any doubt about how important Zuckerberg had become was removed during a conversation Losse had with one of his security guards.

He informed her that Zuckerberg was known as ‘the package’ and everyone else at the company were ‘the straps’.
When she asked him to explain, he said: ‘You are the straps. Mark is the package. ‘He’s number one, he’s the guy we have to protect at all costs. Everyone else is the straps, because you’re the hangers on.

‘You’re only important because he is, but we can’t have you falling into the wrong hands.’Leaving Facebook was seen as a betrayal by Zuckerberg, Losse writes: ‘Mark gave me a long, cold look. The friendly smirk was gone; I was no longer his bro…
‘…as a parting shot, Mark told his assistant to move my desk to another floor, removing me from his exalted engineering department, even though he knew my last day would only be weeks later.

‘This was a symbolic gesture that relayed in no uncertain terms that I no longer belonged as a soldier in this technical empire’.
Daily Mail, London

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