The Social Network

Fictional accounts of a living person(s) are risky. The risk lies in getting it wrong to the detriment and distress of a fair number of individuals even though the work is justified as fictional. This is why I am registering a dissenting voice amidst the widespread praise of The Social Network, the film made of Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires.

Zuckerberg concurs: "The reason why we didn't participate is because it was very clear that it was fiction from the beginning. We talked to [Mezrich] about that and he basically told us, ‘what I'm most interested in is telling the most interesting story.’ We want to make sure that we never participate in something like that, so then someone can take something that's really fictional and say, 'We talked to Mark Zuckerberg for this.' So, I think it's clear that it's fiction. All the book reviews of that book from people who know it say that it's fiction. The movie is based on the book.”

To begin, the film made Zuckerberg into a creep, a totally inept human being, a rude and insensitive person. I thought that was unfair and unnecessary. It is also untrue. Zuckerberg in person, as I’ve viewed him in several videos, is nothing like the Zuckerberg depicted in the film. To be sure, like everyone else, he has his excesses. And he may be a bit nerdy, but these days that isn’t rare and he surely doesn’t lack all the civilities ascribed to him in the film.

And then The Social Network concentrated almost exclusively on disputes among the Facebook founders and the three Harvard students who also were thinking along similar lines rather than on Zuckerberg, his background, skills at computer programming, and the several other individuals who supported him in creating Facebook.

It also completely ignored the issue that continues to puzzle me as to why social networking has such appeal. At least the film failed to explain the Facebook phenomenon in a way that makes sense to me, although it seems to have done so for others.

No doubt this is a topic best explored with other methods and in other forums. Yes, I am a member but entirely out of curiosity. Surely that is not the reason 500,000,000 other individuals have signed up or why a goodly number of them spend a fair amount of time each day on the site.

No idea is totally original. As Steven Johnson often remarks in his new book Where Good Ideas Come From, most innovations are cobbled together from other elements. Bricolage (“construction or creation from a diverse range of available things”) is a word Johnson often uses to describe this process.

It was his smarts, some luck, the people who worked with him and the social networking Websites that preceded his that gave Zuckerberg what he need to “cobble together” Facebook. A movie could be crafted or at least include some of this background. It would be one with less distortion and exaggeration and no doubt wouldn’t make much money for Columbia Pictures

I was also bothered by the Winklevoss brothers dispute, the way they went about grousing about Zuckerberg, and then their eventual lawsuit. They simply lost the race, like they lost the Henley Regatta. They didn't have what it takes to develop the software or pull together the resources, and above all the gumption to put Facebook on the map. According to Dustin Moscovistz, one of the co-founders of Facebook, “the Winlevosses had no part in the work we did to create the site…”

And contrary to their claim they were not the first to think about a facebook-like concept. There were similar Websites that preceded Facebook (founded 2004), including My Space (founded 2003) and Friendster (founded 2002), as well as Zuckerberg’s previous work in creating Facemash and Course Match at Harvard.

Zuckerberg's apparent betrayal of his once-close friend and roommate, Eduardo Saverin did bother and then confuse me, although I certainly don’t know the truth of this matter. I do know that Saverin is listed as a co-founder and that while the percentage of shares he owns has been reduced, the same is true of Zuckerberg’s with the investments of venture capitalists or “angel investors” as they were described in the film. Saverin also has settled his lawsuit against Facebook for an undisclosed amount.

While the film may be well made, with a zesty dialogue and colorful cast, it makes the founding of Facebook more of an undergraduate caper than a fascinating yet baffling innovation with, in this viewer’s opinion, an unknown future and a puzzling appeal.