The Social Network

I saw The Social Network last weekend. It's entertaining. If you want to see an entertaining movie - go see it. I won't give away any spoilers in this post.

The movie is a drama. It's a work of art. But it's supposed to be about a true story - the founding of Facebook. So I'm really uneasy about the idea that accuracy can take a back seat, so long as the film is a well-written piece of art.

(from deneyterrio on Flickr)

I've now read two stories about Facebook and seen one film. The first, Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires, is admittedly an entertaining read; but not without issues. The main issue is that Ben Mezrich is unfortunately known for writing questionably accurate depictions of events in order to create page-turning books. But at the end of the day, I wasn't there and I can't judge whether Mezrich is being fair to reality. The bigger issue with Mezrich's book is that it uses Eduardo Saverin as its primary source. And anyone who's read The Accidental Billionaires or seen The Social Network knows that Saverin has pretty significant motive to tell a story that's not favorable of Mark Zuckerberg.

Now we have the movie version of a questionably accurate book. It's written by Aaron Sorkin, a screenwriter who's freely admitted that he barely understands Facebook or the social web.

Lastly, we have Jose Antonio Vargas's profile of Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker. It's a great profile, and it's a piece that leaves you scratching your head, because many of the things we learn about Mark Zuckerberg in the article are things that aren't portrayed at all in the book or the film. At the end of the day, Vargas actually sat down with Zuckerberg; Mezrich and Sorkin didn't.

When Aaron Sorkin wrote The West Wing, he wrote it about a fictional administration. What if the main charter instead was Bill Clinton or George Bush? The show made for good drama without presenting itself as reality. That's what makes The Social Network different. There are plenty of people who will walk out of theaters accepting, on-face, that what they just saw is exactly what happened.


    I think the truth is somewhere in between. Saverin has a story to tell, so you can't just take that at face value, especially once Mezrich touches it. But Vargas probably had to give some assurances that he wouldn't take the gloves off to get that interview. You'll notice that Vargas uses the term "sophomoric" to describe activity that is potentially an illegal breach of privacy laws. But maybe I'm also just biased because my understanding of the story comes from the people who ultimately settled with Facebook for the theft of their idea.
    In the end though, your conclusion is probably the correct one. It will be a shame when many people leave the movie theater and take this story as a factual retelling of history. The founding a Facebook is a fascinating story, to be sure, but that doesn't mean this movie is telling it accurately.