The Social Network a Good Yarn, but Incomplete

The movie The Social Network is a worthy and multi-faceted flick. It evoked some thoughts given I have traveled in  high tech circles for most of my career as a journalist.


Facebook’s main-founder-maybe Mark Zuckerberg? I know the type. Such individuals are so scary bright, they need not trifle themselves with ethical behavior. They see five steps beyond everyone else so the rules don’t apply. Stealing ideas? That’s fair game, too.

But does Zuckerberg fit that stereotype? The scary bright part is true for sure, but we need to hear his side of the story. It doesn’t help Zuckerberg’s case that The Social Network is a good movie.

Did Zuckerberg steal the equally unlikable Winklevoss twins’ idea for a social network? It’s certainly plausible. Did Zuckerberg trick Facebook co-founder and best friend Eduardo Saverin by diluting his one third share to .03 percent? That would seem hard to make up.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and the air around Zuckerberg is choked with particulate. But in fairness, we need to hear from Mark, who did not participate in the movie’s story line.

The movie is based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, which has won mediocre customer reviews on Amazon.  When books came out about Bill Gates 15-20 years ago, none of them won acclaim because none got cooperation from their principal character (Gates, who I knew and interviewed many times loathed talking about himself).

Mezrich’s book is opportunistic and timely: Facebook is hot and people want to know about it right now. Frankly, it’s dandy of a tale. Oh yes, the full title of Mezrich’s book includes another line: “A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal.” What movie producer can resist that? Apparently not Kevin Spacey, who is the film’s executive producer.

Speaking of Gates, comparisons to Zuckerberg will invariably be made. After all, they are both famous Harvard drop-outs, card-carrying nerds, social misfits and wildly successful. Indeed, there are parallels, but Gates didn’t chisel any of his colleagues or old friends – in fact, he was loyal to most of them and shared the wealth.

Some IBMers might say Gates back stabbed them over the long forgotten OS/2 operating system, but history suggests the episode wasn’t much more than corporate hardball. It’s hard to feel bad for IBM, but other lesser Microsoft partners have been crushed by the Microsoft elephant in the room. There were rumblings that Gates lifted the idea for PC DOS which got Microsoft started 30 years ago, but they never got much traction.

Now Gates is giving away his billions and Zuckerberg seems head down the same path, starting with his $100 million gift to the Newark, N.J. school system that coincided the movie’s release.

In the movie, Zuckerberg gets sucked in by Sean Parker (who has a surprisingly brief Wikipedia bio) of Napster fame whose mission in life is to flip the bird to establishment types. That’s about the only good thing he does. Parker played by Justin Timberlake comes off as a high rolling and ego-maniacal sleazeball, who lives to break rules. And that intoxicates young Zuckerberg, who turned 26 in May.

But Zuckerberg, who would be a good poster child for Asperger Syndrome, often looks guilty with sly smirky facial expressions that suggest he knows he has done wrong, but could not help himself. He seems tormented, but over what is not exactly clear except his that his feverish mind is always on overdrive. Or was it  the Boston University coed who rejected him?  We never find out.

Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg is brilliant. Check out the trailer below. He masterfully pulls off talking-at-the-speed of light that afflicts many smart people. His intense and often disturbed facial expressions add to the believability of his character.

There’s no denying Zuckerberg was brilliant if for no other reason he alone as a founder saw what Facebook could become (Parker did too). And he clearly was and is a brilliant hacker, ahem, programmer. He’s the digital world’s latest tarnished but rising star. Trust me, someone will soon come along and knock him off that perch with the next insanely great hardware and or software. Semiconductors are grains in an irresistible and lucrative sandbox for nerd-ian minds.

There were a few sub themes. Women and especially Asian come off as sex toys, who make no contribution to creation of Facebook or anything else for that matter. Harvard University, which Zuckerberg attended, is cast as the elitist and privileged institution it is. Former Harvard president Larry Summers demonstrates his trademark impatience: when the Winklevoss’s complain to him that Zuckerberg stole their Facebook idea, he keeps asking them why they are wasting his time.

Don’t feel bad for the Winklevoss’s. They settled for $65 million and now are going after more. And there’s no proof they could have built Facebook into the 500-million member march it is today. That, it seems, is what Zuckerberg did.

In the movie, Zuckerberg frequently dons Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA) tee and sweat shirts. PEA is one the nation’s oldest and most elite prep schools. My son Chris went there the year after Zuckerberg graduated and heard rumblings that Facebook was modeled in part after PEA’s student network…alas, that angle was unexplored in the movie and was probably not true.

The Social Network is a good yarn and should be applauded for using real names although all movies without the help of their principal characters are heavily fictionalized. My favorite line was from Zuckerberg’s attorney: “Mark, you’re not really an asshole. You’re just trying real hard to be one.”

BTW, The Social Network does have a Facebook page.

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