Mark Zuckerberg is a Better Writer Than Paul Ceglia

    June 6, 2011
    Josh Wolford

In the case of the guy who says he owns 84% of Facebook, recent developments have come in the form of a motion for expedited discovery. Last week we told you about the “Declaration of Mark Elliot Zuckerberg in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Expedited Discovery,” where the Facebook CEO once again indicated that he did not sign the purported contracts with Paul Ceglia, who claims to own a substantial part of the social network.

The crux of Ceglia’s argument revolves around alleged emails sent by Zuckerberg that entitle him to a large chunk of the company. These emails surfaced in April, many months after Ceglia initially came forward with the claim.

Naturally, the position of Zuckerberg is that the emails aren’t authentic, and that they were faked by Ceglia. As part of the recent motion for expedited discovery, a linguist has filed a supporting declaration that claims the questioned emails were not written by Mark Zuckerberg, and he can prove it with grammar and syntax.

Professor Emeritus and former Linguistics Department Chair at California State University Fresno Gerald McMenamin analyzed the questioned emails provided by Ceglia with actual email writings by Mark Zuckerberg. He compared 11 different “style markers,” various instances of punctuation, spelling and syntax, and came to the conclusion that “it is probable that Mr. Zuckerberg is not the author of the question writings.”

It is important to note that no single marker of these nine differing features is idiosyncratic to these writers. However, these nine contrasting markers constitute a unique set of markers. It would be improbable to find a single writer who simultaneously demonstrates both the questioned set and the known set.

Based on the contrastingly-distinct style markers which the questioned excerpts and the known-Zuckerberg writings demonstrate, as well as the presence of no more than two minimally-significant similarities between [the two], I conclude that the known writings of Mr. Zuckerberg demonstrate a sufficiently significant set of differences vis-a-vis the questioned writings to constitute evidence that Mr. Zuckerberg is not the author of the excerpted question references.

So this leaves a couple of options. First, if the emails are actually from Zuckerberg, it would mean that he is a wildly inconsistent writer. Second, Paul Ceglia, when crafting the fake emails, could have thought that specific idiosyncrasies would make them appear more authentic (incredibly incorrect, if this is the case). Lastly, Paul Ceglia is just a bad writer.

I say this, because the specific differences all have actual Zuckerberg writing properly, with carefully chosen punctuation and word usage. Questionable Zuckerberg writes more haphazardly.

First, the questioned emails have poor apostrophe usage.  For example, they leave out contraction apostrophes in words like “doesnt.”  Possessive apostrophes are also missing, as in words like “parents” when used possessively.  The questioned emails also say “sites” when using it to mean both “site is” and that the site is possessive.  In the known Zuckerberg emails, he properly places all apostrophes.

The questioned emails also have multiple instances of run-on sentences, while the known Zuckerberg writings do not.  The questioned emails also fail to use commas to separate if/then clauses, while the known emails properly use this comma 85% of the time.  When it comes to spelling and capitalization, the questioned emails say “back end,” “internet” and “can not.”  The known Zuckerberg emails say “backend,” “Internet” and “cannot.”

Other differences include sentence opening words – the questioned emails use a completely different and more formal set like “Further,” “Additionally” and “Thus.”  Zuck’s real emails begin sentences with “Okay” and “Anyhow.”

Among all the differences, there are two similarities, however. Both sets of emails use “Thanks!” as a concluding phrase. Both also begin various sentences with “Sorry.”

Since Ceglia’s entire lawsuit is contingent upon the validity of these emails, this could be a huge blow to it. Putting the actual case aside, this is fun because the word nerd in me just loves a language breakdown and analysis. Plus, it’s interesting to know that Zuckerberg is a very formal email writer. Whoever wrote those disputed emails is not.