Friday, November 12, 2010

What's True in the Facebook Movie

BS Top - Kirkpatrick Social Network  

Let's get one thing out of the way—The Social Network is a compelling movie that maintains a taut sense of drama from its opening moments to the final scene.
But, like most movies drawn from actual events, it is a pastiche—an amalgam of fact and fiction, based upon the partly made-up book Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich.
I spent a year and a half studying the real story in researching my recent nonfiction book The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. I repeatedly interviewed Facebook founder Zuckerberg, his co-founders, and his friends, along with scores of Facebook executives, and studied all the documents I could get my hands on. I tried to uncover the real history of Facebook. So here's a look at what's true and false in The Social Network.

Note: This article will reveal plot details. (Another note: After The Social Network producer Scott Rudin acquired the rights to Accidental Billionaires in the summer of 2008, he asked me to consult for the movie. But my book project depended on extensive access to Facebook employees, and executives there felt the Mezrich book was hostile and inaccurate. They did not want me to work with the movie, and I didn't.)
Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an angry, insecure but cocky young jerk whose creation of the service initially called Thefacebook was motivated in large part by a desire to win the attention of a former girlfriend.
In fact, Zuckerberg is one of the least angry people I've ever met. He is even-tempered, generally upbeat, if prone to silence, and highly self-confident.

The film begins with Zuckerberg talking to girlfriend Erica Albright at a restaurant. He is obsessed with getting into one of the elite "final clubs" at Harvard. "I need to do something substantial to get the attention of the clubs," he tells her, urgently. But by all accounts in my reporting, Zuckerberg was uninterested in the clubs. Instead, he had concluded that sharing and transparency would redefine the Internet and was determined to experiment with software that exemplified his ideas. He also wanted to respond to widespread student dissatisfaction that Harvard had not put online its paper "facebook," with photos of freshmen.

After the movie-version Zuckerberg acts patently insensitive, Albright breaks up with him, calling him an "asshole." The movie shows him repeatedly seeking to get back into her good graces. Its final scene shows a pathetic, solitary Zuckerberg, isolated and alone, forlornly sending a Facebook "friend request" to Albright. In fact, Zuckerberg was seldom without a girlfriend even before Thefacebook. And shortly before Thefacebook launched, the real-life Zuckerberg began seriously dating a girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, with whom he lives today. He was with her during almost all the events portrayed in the movie.

Though the movie includes a character named "Dustin Moskovitz," it almost completely omits his critical role in building and growing Thefacebook. Zuckerberg told me that without Moskovitz's dogged commitment, Thefacebook would probably have waned. His real-life role was not as dramatic as Zuckerberg's, but Moskovitz was vastly more important to the company's real success, even before it moved to Palo Alto, than additional co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who wins a major role in the story because after he was kicked out of the company, he sued.

Sean Parker, another major character from Facebook's early days, is portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie as snide, arrogant, and mean. The real Sean Parker (who I profiled for the September issue of Vanity Fair) is certainly high-strung. But nobody would ever call him mean.

SHOOT: I don't agree with Kirkpatrick, and the comments to his article reflect similar sentiments.  But it is somewhat illuminating to what is in fact accurate about The Social Network, and in contradiction to his article, it's reasonable to say more was accurate than not.

Read the rest here.

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