05.24.10

Mark Zuckerberg, Movie Villain

Amid a Facebook backlash, Choire Sicha nabs an illicit copy of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay about the site—and finds its founder portrayed as a selfish, sexist backstabber.

Amid a Facebook backlash, Choire Sicha nabs an illicit copy of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay about the site—and finds its founder portrayed as a selfish, sexist backstabber. Plus, View Our Complete Coverage of The Social Network

Pretty much everyone resents or despises Mark Zuckerberg right now—even while most of them continue to be voluntary customers of his creation, Facebook. That makes it a really odd time for a big old Hollywood movie all about him to be coming down the pike. Unless, perhaps, the movie portrays him to be an awful schmuck? (Spoiler: It sure does.)

Zuckerberg has become more private and distant as each year passes—as if his massive accumulated wealth is papering him over, dollar by dollar, making him an enormous, papered-over piñata of a person. The louder people complain about Facebook's capricious and sudden changes in privacy policies and his willingness to fork over customer information to marketers, the more he's receded. But over the weekend, he allowed a friend to publish an extremely tepid email. Then Zuckerberg came out with a defensive Washington Post op-ed as well.

Zuckerberg is introduced as harboring a “complicated and dangerous anger.” He displays this anger throughout the script by being an unbearable, snarky ass to anyone who ever asks him a question.

He has to speak now. Facebook's various moves toward money-making off its free service—all by monetizing the user base—over the last few years have each been more disastrous than the last.

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Zuckerberg often writes like a robot taking a nice milk bath. The most exciting part of his email, for instance, goes like this: "I know we've made a bunch of mistakes, but my hope at the end of this is that the service ends up in a better place and that people understand that our intentions are in the right place and we respond to the feedback from the people we serve." The op-ed was even more blah.

It's the kind of message you'd pay a decent flack to put out for you, but it ain't that great—particularly in that it resembles previous apologies offered by and for Facebook.

But it doesn't quash the news, just confirmed, that Facebook was sending such detailed information to its advertisers that they could identify the user's name.

And it won't erase the sting of the forthcoming film The Social Network, the story of the founding of Facebook. Because, at least in the draft of the Aaron Sorkin screenplay that I read, which is purported to be close to the final version, the portrayal of Zuckerberg is merciless.

The script begins with anxious and status-obsessed man-boy Zuckerberg and his nerd friends at Harvard competing to get into finals clubs and competing to get girls. It pretty strongly pegs the inspiration for Facebook to Zuckerberg's desire to humiliate women. It definitely takes the side of the identical, Olympic-medal-winning, insanely jawboned Winklevoss twins, who said that Zuckerberg stole their ideas (the parties reached a confidential settlement in 2008).

Zuckerberg is introduced as harboring a "complicated and dangerous anger." He displays this anger throughout the script by being an unbearable, snarky ass to anyone who ever asks him a question.

About the first half of the script takes place at Harvard, and then one arrives at Palo Alto almost exactly halfway through, when Zuckerberg has dropped out of school to be closer to the Silicon Valley capital. It ends with Zuckerberg complicit in the ouster of his friend and Facebook cofounder.

The movie will be released this October, and it's impossible to know what changes might have been made while David Fincher filmed. But this draft treats Zuckerberg as a selfish, shameless, sexist, callow, maybe-shy but maybe-unfeeling, inhuman, awful, back-stabbing, shallow little code monkey with about as much insight into human relations as a poorly developed friend-recommending algorithm.

This may or may not be a terrible disservice to Zuckerberg. We have no way to know (and through his representative, Sorkin declined to discuss the screenplay and what he thinks about the recent Facebook/Zuckerberg tsunami).

The Social Network is sourced from Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, and already it seems a shame that the producers didn't wait for the publication, in early June, of David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect. Mezrich, uses "invented scenes" in his work (and that's The Wall Street Journal's phrasing) and now that the stories are getting a second iteration, both dialogue and plot is less likely to be accurate.

So what do you do if you're Mark Zuckerberg, and someone writes a book about you and then a major Hollywood film is made from that account? Do you sue? Or do you just figure hey, I'm a billionaire, maybe I won't worry about it and will instead go buy some hotels or people or planes? Sad to say, it'll be a sign of character if he can tolerate a fictionalized but allegedly truthful biopic about himself in silence.

But if he starts arguing, there are so many details to argue about! In the script, Zuckerberg is totally blissed out to meet Napster founder Sean Parker at some horrid nightclub; Parker storms in and orders "lacquered pork" and lobster claws. (Back in real life, at least according to Zuckerberg, he and Sean Parker met by chance on the street in Palo Alto, while Parker was moving boxes out of his car.)

And, when the twosome went into business, did they then run wild, partying with young gals at druggy house parties? ("The GIRL taps out some coke from a vial onto ASHLEIGH'S chest," in one of the most divinely ridiculous Sorkinisms to date.) The even less sexy truth is 1.) Sometimes yes (Parker was arrested, after all, on drug charges, though in North Carolina, not California) but 2.) Really it seems like they spent a good deal of their time building improvements to Facebook. (Anyone remember Wirehog, the peer-to-peer in-Facebook filesharing system? Nevermind, it's too boring to even describe, much to give more than two sentences to in a script.)

At the end of the script and in real life, we know Mark Zuckerberg, for the most part, as the anti-Craig Newmark. As the founder of Craiglist, Newmark has "customer service rep" on his business card. Zuckerberg's said "I'm CEO… bitch." And unlike Newmark's active participation, Zuckerberg's had four Facebook postings from 2006 to 2009, one of which was headlined "Calm Down. Breathe. We Hear You," and the most recent of which is headlined "On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information," the exact kind of assertion from a CEO that makes one think twice.

It wasn't always this way. Back in 2005, there were what seem now like delightfully antiquated stories about Facebook. They often went something like this one, from CBS Evening News of May 15, 2005: "College can sometimes be a lonely place, with cold and impersonal campuses and enrollments in the thousands. But Sandra Hughes tells us tonight many students are checking out potential soul mates without even meeting them." Or: "Online Directory Clicks With College Social Scene," went the Orlando Sentinel in January of 2005.

And who was this great youngster behind the company? "Facebook's Founder Inspires the Young," is how the Philadelphia Inquirer treated Zuckerberg in October, 2006.

Since then, it's really all been downhill. A year later came the disaster of Beacon. Beacon, which shared user information with marketers, lasted from late 2007 until fall of 2009. Facebook execs misinformed the public about whether marketers received information from users who "opted out" of the system; in fact, users who opted out were not opted out, and a class-action suit was settled.

There were many other skirmishes in the early privacy wars; there was the inability to truly delete accounts, then the site took away the ability to make one's list of "friends" private; last month, the site changed privacy settings again, in the most incomprehensible matter possible.

Thanks to Zuckerberg and his team, right now an immense and ever-growing number of people are unemployable because their Facebook postings, under their real name, reveal them to be pretty unfit for any kind of jobs like legal secretary or nurse or DMV employee. Here's a public search listing, using Facebook's data, for people using the word "faggot" and here's one for "Muslim Obama". Do you think that sounds outlandish? In Milwaukee, an emergency dispatcher was put on a 30-day leave, and may be fired, over her Facebook status about drug use. (The dispatcher maintains she was joking.)

Is it a shame that thousands or maybe even millions of people are too stupid to use the Internet properly, or at least to use it with any self- or communal regard? Oh yes. And it's their own fault.

But come October, Zuckerberg deserves the brief star turn he's got coming as the villain.

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Choire Sicha is co-proprietor of The Awl and is at work on a nonfiction book for HarperStudio.