The day that Google launched its social network in 2011, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called an impromptu meeting that turned into a declaration of war.
Zuckerberg told employees that the launch of Google Plus meant a zero-sum competition for users, and declared a state of “Lockdown” that encouraged employees to work crazy hours to improve its own product, according to an excerpt from an upcoming book from former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia Martinez.
Zuckerberg even turned an ancient Roman slogan into Facebook’s battle cry. Garcia Martinez remembers him saying:
“You know, one of my favourite Roman orators ended every speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est. ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ For some reason I think of that now.”
The Roman senator Cato the Elder popularised the phrase in the second century BC to spur the Roman Republic to crush Carthage during the Punic Wars. In the end, Rome completely destroyed the city of Carthage during the Third Punic War, took over its territories, and sold many of its people off as slaves. The city burned for 17 days.
“Carthago Delenda Est” posters sprung up all over campus, and Facebook kept its cafes opened over the weekends, allowing employees to invite their families to come eat since they were expected to work weekends.
In Martinez’s words: “Facebook was not f***ing around. This was total war.”
Of course, Google Plus ultimately never came close to reaching Facebook-levels of popularity — Google ended up breaking it apart last year. But Garcia Martinez’s account gives us a fascinating internal perspective on how Zuckerberg responds to perceived threats, one that’s especially interesting now when another app, Snapchat, seems to be threatening Facebook’s social network dominance.