'Anonymous' Facebook interview: Real or fake?

A blog called The Rumpus has posted what it says is an interview with an anonymous Facebook employee. Some of the details in it, however, are a little bit suspect.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

Interviews with Facebook employees are generally well-groomed and press-savvy. That's why there's something awfully intriguing about an interview posted Monday to culture blog The Rumpus, which claims to offer extremely candid insights from an anonymous Facebook employee. Above all, the piece makes it very evident that Facebook's employees have access to an extraordinary amount of information about our private lives.

Among the "revelations?" That "at least 70 percent of Facebook engineers are from Harvard and Stanford," that there are upwards of a trillion photos stored on Facebook's servers, that Facebook has fired at least two employees for snooping and modifying ordinary members' profiles. It also says that the company once had a "master password" that could log into any account, that Facebook engineers are "weird, and smart as balls," and that Facebook has between 200 million and 220 million "active" users, well over 100 million fewer than the company's official count of 350 million in early December.

A reader noted via e-mail that the interview took place last summer, when Facebook's official active user count was smaller--perhaps 250 million, a milestone the social network hit in midsummer. But a roundabout statement from Facebook suggests that the whole thing may be bunk.

"This piece contains the kind of inaccuracies and misrepresentations you would expect from something sourced 'anonymously,' and we'll leave it at that," Facebook spokesman Larry Yu told CNET in an e-mail.

All PR-speak aside, the interview is factually dubious enough--the active user count is in conflict not only with Facebook's own numbers, but also with third-party traffic firms that have been monitoring the social network's phenomenal growth over the years.

Commenters on the article seem to agree, ranging from "I can't imagine this conversation really took place. This person would be fired for giving up this kind of information. This seems like a hoax" to "Leave it to The Rumpus to make even a fake interviewee disgustingly self-important."

The Rumpus editor Jeremy Hatch stands by the story. "Long before publication, I determined to my satisfaction that this interview really took place," he posted in the comments. "I would not have included it if there were even the slightest suspicion of a hoax."

That said, consider this: Why the heck would a Facebook employee--who is described as a female, two-year veteran of the company--spill so much information to a writer if her colleagues could just look that writer up on Facebook (The Rumpus says his name's Phil Wong and he's a student at Columbia) and see which members of the company's payroll are friends with him?

This post was updated at 5:53 p.m. PT to note that the interview was conducted last summer and that some details related to Facebook may have changed since.