09.23.10

Insider: Zuckerberg Wanted to Delay $100 Million Donation

A source close to the Facebook CEO says that, contrary to some speculation, the timing of his massive contribution to Newark’s public schools has nothing to do with the release of an unflattering film.

A source close to the Facebook CEO says that, contrary to some speculation, the timing of his massive contribution to Newark’s public schools has nothing to do with the release of an unflattering film. Plus, View Our Complete Coverage of The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg will announce a donation Friday of $100 million to the public schools of Newark, New Jersey. Friday also is the day that the movie The Social Network, which portrays Zuckerberg (inaccurately) as an angry and sex-obsessed kid during Facebook's first year, premieres at the New York Film Festival. It is, at the least, a peculiar coincidence. Is it a calculated effort to deflect attention away from the movie? The question is an obvious one.

So obvious, in fact, that in the opinion of those close to Zuckerberg, it answers itself. Of course it was not intended, they say.

It was not an intentional juxtaposition, they say, because to be so overt in attempting to alter perception would be craven and obvious.

According to a source very close to the situation, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were the ones who chose the timing, in order to sync up the announcement with other events that were important to the potential revival of Newark schools. Zuckerberg, this source says, wanted very much to delay the announcement but ultimately conceded, pressured by Booker and Christie, thinking he might potentially help Newark's schools more than if he waited.

It seems inarguable that the donation has something to do with the incipient arrival of the unflattering film. After all, Zuckerberg could have made his donation anonymously, as big donors sometimes do. This is the first time he has ever made any sort of big philanthropic donation, and will also be the first time he has ever sold a substantial portion of his Facebook stock. Its value, depending on what you think the company is worth, may be as high as $8 billion. Not bad for a 26-year-old. It's so much that spending 1.25 percent of it on a good cause might seem like a reasonable way to tell the world that you are not a jerk.

But to have timed the announcement to coincide precisely with the movie premiere would have been incredibly boneheaded. It seems unlikely to have been intentional.

David Kirkpatrick writes about technology for The Daily Beast. A former Fortune reporter, he is the author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World.