Hot or Not? Website Briefly Judges Looks

Harvard students often compete in the classroom, but for at least a few hours this weekend, only one thing helped them make the grade—their looks.

Just over a month after two Harvard alums competed in the Miss America Pageant, a website created by Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 gave students a chance to rate their peers using ID photos taken from online House facebooks.

“Were we let in for our looks? No. Will we be judged on them? Yes,” proclaimed the site, which Zuckerberg has now taken offline.

Zuckerberg, a computer science concentratror, said he created the site—www.facemash.com—by hacking into House online facebooks and compiling ID photos onto his website, allowing viewers to vote for the “hotter” of two randomly chosen photos or rate the looks of students in a particular House against fellow-residents.

A link to the site was forwarded on many House and student group e-mail lists over the weekend—including the Institute of Politics (IOP), Fuerza Latina and the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW)—prompting both praise and criticism across campus.

But by Sunday night, outrage from individuals and student groups led Zuckerberg, who said he never expected such widespread publicity, to shut down the site for good.

By that time, Zuckerberg said, there had been 450 visitors to the site who had voted on their peers’ photos at least 22,000 times.

“I don’t see how it can go back online. Issues about violating people’s privacy don’t seem to be surmountable. The primary concern is hurting people’s feelings,” Zuckerberg said. “I’m not willing to risk insulting anyone.”

Leyla R. Bravo ’05, president of Fuerza Latina, said she sent a link to the website out over the group’s e-mail list to let people know about what she viewed as a problem.

“I heard from a friend and I was kind of outraged,” she said. “I thought people should be aware.”

Both Fuerza Latina and ABHW received apology e-mails from Zuckerberg yesterday.

In the letter, Zuckerberg wrote that he was mainly interested in the computer science behind the venture.

“I understood that some parts were still a little sketchy and I wanted some more time to think about whether or not this was really appropriate to release to the Harvard community,” he wrote.

According to Zuckerberg, it was his intention to only show a few friends to get their opinion on the site, but someone forwarded the link to a friend and the chain of e-mails continued from there.

“When I returned from a meeting at around 10 p.m.,” he wrote in the letter, “traffic was out of hand, and after thinking about the best course of action, I shut down the site around 10:30.”

Earlier that day, the site had experienced less than a quarter of those visitors, according to Zuckerberg. But when he got back to his room, traffic to the website was so heavy that he could not even log on to his own computer.