fb-pixelMark Zuckerberg couldn’t stop mentioning his Harvard dorm room during Facebook testimony - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t stop mentioning his Harvard dorm room during Facebook testimony

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looked out the window in his old dorm room at Harvard University in 2017.Facebook via Associated Press

Does Mark Zuckerberg desperately long for the days of hanging out in his college dorm room, building a website to boost his popularity on campus?

For a guy who couldn’t wait to get the heck out of dodge and hightail it to Silicon Valley to enhance his company’s profile, it sure seems like it.

During his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committee Tuesday, the first day of a two-day tour as the Facebook founder addresses officials about privacy issues and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg repeatedly reminded those watching that his behemoth company got its start as a seedling inside of his Cambridge digs — a place that has been described as a mecca for some students, albeit one that’s a bit dingy and tight on space.


At least four times during his remarks, Zuckerberg noted that Facebook came from such humble roots. A senator also brought it up.

The New Yorker called Zuckerberg’s call-backs to his days at Harvard the “Dorm Room Defense,” pointing out that he seemed to use his modest start to “justify anything that might have gone catastrophically wrong in the meantime.”

Some people on social media also saw the references to the dorm as a tactic to paint himself as a young entrepreneur who simply created something from scratch, and dodge his latest controversy.

The first reference to his dorm room came somewhat early during the hearing Tuesday, after Senator John Thune asked Zuckerberg how his apology — more than a decade after Facebook’s launch — is different than past apologies made by the chief executive.

“Why should we trust Facebook to make the necessary changes to ensure user privacy and give people a clearer picture of your privacy policies?” Thune asked, according to a transcript of the hearing posted by The Washington Post.


Zuckerberg countered the question by pointing out that while Facebook has certainly hit a few snags over the years, it would be “impossible” not to considering the company grew at such an exponential rate.

“We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” he admitted. “I think it’s — it’s pretty much impossible, I — I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes.”

Facebook co-founders and Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg (right) and Dustin Moscovitz at Harvard Yard in 2004. Justine Hunt/Globe Staff/file

As the South Dakota senator continued to question Zuckerberg — this time about how the company identifies hate speech and how it’s handled — the Facebook bigwig again pointed out that, quite frankly, he was once just a guy in a hooded sweatshirt tinkering with an idea in his Harvard dormitory with his pals.

“From the beginning of the company in 2004 — I started in my dorm room; it was me and my roommate,” Zuckerberg said. “We didn’t have A.I. technology that could look at the content that people were sharing. So — so we basically had to enforce our content policies reactively.”

Later, when talking about content policy enforcement, Zuckerberg, again, noted where it all began, as if he were reminiscing fondly about his time at Harvard before he eventually dropped out.

“The history of how we got here is we started off in my dorm room with not a lot of resources,” he said, “and not having the A.I. technology to be able to proactively identify a lot of this stuff.”


Kirkland House at Harvard University, the dorm where Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook.Bill Greene/Globe Staff/file 2012

There was even a reference, not specifically to his old room, but to his time at Harvard in general, and how he had few resources to build his platform.

“I look at my own story of when I was getting started building Facebook at Harvard, you know, I only had one option for an ISP to use,” Zuckerberg said. “And if I had to pay extra in order to make it so that my app could potentially be seen or used by other people, then — then we probably wouldn’t be here today.”

The dorm-room chatter came up so often that one official, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, finally hinted that perhaps the origin story was not so relevant now.

A plaque for room H-33 hung next to the names of residents in Harvard's Kirkland Hall. The room is where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lived when he attended Harvard.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/file 2015

“You know, you’ve talked about your very humble beginnings in starting Facebook in — in your dorm room, which I appreciated that story,” Peters said, “but certainly Facebook has changed an awful lot over a relatively short period of time.”

Of course, users on Twitter were quick to notice the dorm trend, too:

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.