In 2003, 19-year-old computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg began working from his Harvard dormitory room on an online network aimed at connecting students at a prestigious US university.
On February 4, 2004, he launched thefacebook.com with three friends.
Membership is open to other colleges around North America. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and moved to Silicon Valley, California.
The new company received a $500,000 investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and officially became Facebook in 2005.
First are privacy concerns
Microsoft took a $240 million stake in 2007 after Facebook rejected bids from US media conglomerates Viacom and Yahoo. It currently has over 50 million users.
That year, Zuckerberg apologized for a feature called Beacon that alerted the entire community when a user made online purchases.
In 2008, Facebook overthrew MySpace as the world's most popular social networking website and launched its first mobile app the following year.
A stage of protest
David Fincher's story about the origins of Facebook, “The Social Network,” hit the theaters in 2010, winning Oscars for best adapted screenplay, original score and film editing.
Time magazine named Zuckerberg its 2010 Person of the Year, “for changing our lives every day.”
As membership rackets, Facebook plays an increasing role in shaping public debate.
In 2011, it played a key role in giving voice to disillusioned Arab youth in the Arab Spring uprisings.
Stock market entry
In 2012, Facebook bought photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion.
The tech sector's largest initial public offering (IPO) ever raised $16 billion and valued Facebook at $104 billion.
A hoodie-clad Zuckerberg remotely rang the Nasdaq bell from Facebook's California headquarters.
In October 2012, Facebook reached one billion subscribers.
Social media conglomerate
In 2014, Facebook courted young smartphone users by buying messaging platform WhatsApp for $19 billion.
It will move into a new Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Silicon Valley.
In 2016, Facebook was embroiled in controversy over allegations that Russia used it and other social media platforms to try to influence the outcome of the US presidential election that swept Donald Trump to power.
In 2018, it was revealed that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had stolen the personal data of millions of Facebook users and used it for political purposes, including rallying support for Trump.
Grilled in the US Congress, Zuckerberg vowed to do more to crack down on fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, and tighten data privacy.
From Facebook to Meta
In 2021, Facebook will change its company name to Meta — Greek for “beyond” but also Metaverse — a virtual world that Zuckerberg envisions as the future of the Internet.
On February 3, 2022, its share price fell after it warned of slowing revenue growth, wiping more than $200 billion off its market value.
Its shares rebounded spectacularly in late 2023, and the company registered a capitalization of more than $1 trillion in early 2024.
Young users are increasingly leaving it for TikTok or Snapchat but it remains the world's most used social network with around 1.96 billion active users.
In October 2023 dozens of US states accused Meta of harming the mental health of children and teenagers.
Meta later responded with plans to tighten content restrictions for teenagers on Instagram and Facebook.
In 2023, Facebook was fined a record 1.2-billion-euro ($1.3-billion) in Ireland for illegally transferring personal data between Europe and the United States in violation of EU regulations.
In July 2023 Meta launched its text-based app Threads, intended to rival X, formerly known as Twitter, which alienated many users and advertisers after Elon Musk bought the platform.
In late October it began offering paid ad-free subscriptions in Europe for users who don't want their personal data collected.