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Poor, poor Zuckerberg

Somewhere in Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg probably didn't sleep well last night. "The Social Network," the Aaron Sorkin-written, David Fincher-produced film about the invention of the global Internet phenomenon, opens tonight in New York, and the picture it paints of Zuckerberg isn't a pretty one.

I haven't seen the film, but it appears to be incredibly dark--the trailer and movie web site are downright eerie for a film about college students and the Internet--and the early reviews make Zuckerberg seem almost sinister and calculating. As a result, much of the early press coverage has weighed how much the film will hurt Facebook and Zuckerberg, casting the social-media king as a jerk. "It's a complex, not especially flattering, sometimes scathing portrait" of Zuckerberg, writes Mark Harris in New York Magazine, noting that it has "raised the company's hackles" to the point that a spokesman has already called the movie "fiction" in a story by The New York Times.

But will "The Social Network" really hurt Zuckerberg and Facebook? Or could it actually help it?

I'd argue the latter, despite all the buzz that the film is unfair and takes far too many liberties for a movie about a living 26-year-old, no matter how obscenely wealthy he may be. All of which the film may very well be, or do--Sorkin, after all, goes so far as to say he's glad Zuckerberg would not talk to him in making the film. "I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth," he told New York's Harris. "I want it to be to storytelling."

But beyond the damages to Zuckerberg's pride, ego or sense of self--all big things, to be sure--"The Social Network" probably won't have much negative impact on the company, and indeed, the net result could be positive. Here's why. For one, Facebook's users already shrug off the company's and Zuckerberg's at times arrogant approach to privacy protection. They get angry, they push back, they get Facebook to repeal new policies, yes. But they largely keep using the site. A film that shows a movie version of Zuckerberg betraying his friends is not likely to make fewer people use Facebook.

In addition, there are plenty of respected leaders who aren't necessarily warm and fuzzy guys you want to sit down and have a beer with. Zuckerberg, if that is his character, is not alone. Ruthlessness has never hurt Rupert Murdoch. Larry Ellison, founder of one of the world's largest technology firms, pens emails to reporters with the subject line "Hey Jerk." And Steve Jobs has a cult following that rivals God's, but it's never been hurt by the occasional grouchy email or a reputation for arrogance.

Finallly, Sorkin's "storytelling" might actually elicit some empathy for Zuckerberg, something that's no small feat for a 26-year-old who's now richer than Jobs and sits atop Vanity Fair's annual ranking of the power elite. Some reviewers have found the Zuckerberg portrayal entirely unsympathetic, which on its own should create some level of pity, at least, for the real person behind the caricature, who is likely more complex, more nuanced and less cold-hearted than the movie reportedly portrays. Even everyone involved with making the movie, reports New York's Harris, already views Zuckerberg "with intense sympathy."

I don't believe in the idea that all publicity is good publicity. And maybe I'll change my mind after I view the film and see just how scathing the portrait of Zuckerberg is. But I think people are more forgiving of leaders than we think, and very little can get in the way of a cultural phenomenon like Facebook.

By Jena McGregor

 |  September 23, 2010; 12:22 PM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Personal Leadership Journey , Pop Culture , Young leaders Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Zuckerman is a twit and a nerd. Damn him for unleashing Facebook on us.
Posted by: adrienne_najjar | September 29, 2010 9:39 AM
sounds of jealousy I think

Posted by: lildg54 | September 29, 2010 12:39 PM

Zuckerman is a twit and a nerd. Damn him for unleashing Facebook on us.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | September 29, 2010 9:39 AM

The Social Network, produced by Columbia, owned by Sony; major rival of Microsoft, who has exclusive access to managing Facebook's ad margin. Somebody has a vested interest in this public assassination attempt.

Posted by: Atlas_hugged | September 26, 2010 11:25 PM

It appears from news reports that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from three fellow Harvard students to whom he paid a settlement of $65 million dollars. If that's true then he's forever shamed for stealing an idea and then taking worldwide credit for it.

Posted by: politbureau | September 26, 2010 10:27 PM

You lost me when you said "I haven't seen the film". Can't you even be bothered to see the movie that precipitated your column? This is barely fit for posting on on your facebook page, let alone writing in a national newspaper.

Posted by: mexmanic | September 26, 2010 8:40 PM

Hazmat, your comments, rather, are clueless.

:All websites that have a large user base have technical problems." When did I specify a technical problem? I specified a process, a lack of support and an ethical decision.

"Surely the process to correct your personal info was ultimately rectifiable." I pointed out it wasn't. There was no way to directly contact support and I received no response on their tech support forums. It was not rectified.

"It does NOT require individuals or business entities to give anyone access to express themselves." Did I say it did? No, rather, I pointed out that they made a decision to limit someone's speech. I didn't say it was illegal. I decided it was morally reprehensible and a support of jihad.

I humbly suggest you take my original post to your High School English teacher. A lesson in reading comprehension might be in order.

Posted by: groucho42 | September 26, 2010 5:14 PM

Jena: If you haven't seen the film why are you talking? I stopped reading at that point. This is a stupid newspaper

Posted by: cparada | September 26, 2010 2:37 PM

Zuckerberg sees his clientele as a commodity and he unceasingly attempts to violate their privacy in order to profit from their personal information. I am on Facebook because the rest of my family is, but my profile information is all false and I never provide any information about myself that would do an advertiser any good. It should be noted that whenever you use one of FB's applications, however, you give up not only all your information, but all your friend's information as well.

Posted by: nicekid | September 26, 2010 8:53 AM

Who cares. Facebook is walking dead.

Posted by: melador | September 26, 2010 2:25 AM

Read the latest article about Zuckerman in The New Yorker. I'll go to the movie to see whether or not it corroborates the New Yorker article.

Posted by: PatC1 | September 25, 2010 8:48 PM

For 100 million, you'd think you could at least be superintendent of Newark schools...

- Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | September 25, 2010 6:30 PM

Public images of CEO's are based on a few very well known people who have attracted a large amount of notoriety. Most people working for a large company have no better idea of the CEO than the public at large. I doubt that most companies are looking for CEO's who are a magnate for notoriety. They will be looking for someone with a track record that requires a very aggressive temperament. But in most cases, it will be a track record that also requires an ability to work well with other people. Of course, Zuckerberg would not be a candidate for many of these jobs in any case. For the kind of job where he might be on the short list, the extra notoriety from the movie probably is a plus.

Posted by: dnjake | September 25, 2010 2:21 PM

Does anyone out there find it surprising to find a piece defending Zuckerberg in a publication whose publisher sits on the Board of Directors of Facebook?

Posted by: Seattle5 | September 25, 2010 12:40 PM

groucho42 ... your comments are foolish.

All websites that have a large user base have technical problems, from time to time. Surely the process to correct your personal info was ultimately rectifiable.

The oft spoken about process of "free speech" in the USA is misunderstood. Our Constitution's First Amendment PROHIBITS government from interfering with our rights of free speech. It does NOT require individuals or business entities to give anyone access to express themselves. Private companies can set their own rules and standards when it comes to publishing content.

Posted by: Hazmat77 | September 25, 2010 11:19 AM

A reputation for being a ruthless cutthroat has not harmed Bill Gates, at least not with the general public. I think that this is partly due to the fact that most people do not know what kind of business practices Mr. Gates has engaged in. Hopefully educating folks will help this situation.

Some educational material from the US JUSTICE DEPARTMENT.


Posted by: dfolk1 | September 25, 2010 9:18 AM

The mayor Corey Booker and Zuckerberg should be the story. Not some johnny come lately New Jersey Governor Chris "Chrispy Cream" Christie. The press is not even doing this story correctly. The mayor of Newark just took control so that he could revamp the school systems in New Jersey. Christie Creme had to go along with it in order for the money to go to the state. Corey Booker is the man!

Posted by: MILLER123 | September 25, 2010 2:47 AM

The mayor Corey Booker and Zuckerberg should be the story. Not some johnny come lately New Jersey Governor Chris "Chrispy Cream" Christie

Posted by: MILLER123 | September 25, 2010 2:42 AM

I just saw Zuckerberg on Oprah.He does indeed come across as shy and unassuming. Either he's a good actor or that movie is pure fiction. I'm still looking forward to seeing it though!

Posted by: forgetthis | September 25, 2010 2:17 AM

The world is filled with those who have pretty much stolen the ideas of others and made a fortune. The problem those people have is that when it is time for more ideas to keep the idea fresh and moving forward the thief comes up short. There are already grumblings about Facebook being boring and old. If Mr. Zuckerberg does not have the smarts to keep Facebook fresh he will need to hire the smarts. And he will have to live with the fact that his success was not truly his.

Posted by: bobbo2 | September 25, 2010 1:39 AM

I read the "book" on which the movie is "based." I'm a tech geek in Silicon Valley with several inventions and startups under my laptop, including the gilded dot com era. The debauchery and business shenanigans in the book were not uncommon. The disagreements over flimsy contracts, ownership, invention, etc. are all too common.

Zuckerberg has a featured role, yet the story is not his story, but as told by others. Imagine your life story told by an ex-girlfriend you jilted. Without question Zuckerberg was obsessed with his invention, far more than others around him.

The only part of the book I'd pay to see on the big screen is when Zuckerberg wears his pajamas to a pitch to Mike Moritz of Sequoia Ventures, just so Zuckerberg can turn down Moritz' money. If you knew what an obnoxious little twit Moritz is in real life, you would gladly portray him as the evil villain and give Zuckerberg a pass.

Posted by: boscobobb | September 25, 2010 1:19 AM

So Jena McGregor assumes the film is a documentary and a stipulated truth. What a stupid rush of judgement.

Posted by: rappahanock | September 24, 2010 9:10 PM

I didn't see the movie, but I can believe what I hear about it is close to the truth.

I created a Facebook account. First, they tried to decide what year I was born, got it wrong, and wouldn't allow me any way to change it to the correct year. There's no way to contact support and I never got a response on the help forums.

Then they voted against free speech by taking somebody's page that collected cartoons of Mohammed. That's a legal expression of free speech, but it's against Sharia Law. Facebook sided with jihad.

I killed my account for both reasons.

Posted by: groucho42 | September 24, 2010 6:16 PM

Again, let's keep the comments ARTICLE focused. Isn't that what the comments part of these things are about? Writing comments on the ARTICLES posted on here? If you want to tell your story...start a blog. Just sayin'

Posted by: awesomepossum | September 24, 2010 3:34 PM

Lighten up OssomPossum, i don't read these posts to hear your own critical carping, nobody is forcing you to read posts now are they?

Posted by: Stevedoro | September 24, 2010 1:38 PM

ANYTHING to do***

Posted by: awesomepossum | September 24, 2010 1:24 PM

Windlessbreeze, how does that have ANYTHING whatsoever with this movie and/or movie review? That's a sad story and all, but keep the comments article focused. I read these to find out people's opinion on articles...not to hear your life story.

Posted by: awesomepossum | September 24, 2010 1:23 PM

On the contrary, I think the movie is going to make Zuckerberg more popular than he is now. How many people even knew his name last last year? Even if you only heard it passingly, you probably didn't care to remember it. People are going to admire him even more. Doesn't anyone remember when Princess Di and Mother Theresa died the same week? Guess who got the most coverage and adoration? Human beings don't care too much about the lives of saints. Mark Zuckerberg is going to be transformed into a hero and household name in the aftermath of this movie if it's a box office success.

Posted by: forgetthis | September 24, 2010 1:19 PM

Who cares? Besides creating a social networking phenom, he has created an industry and with that, jobs. That's more than the stimulus package has done.

Posted by: shewholives | September 24, 2010 1:16 PM

Didn't Zuckerman try to spike the cannons with a pledge of $100,000,000 recently?

Posted by: edbyronadams | September 24, 2010 1:07 PM

Shouldn't critize a flick you haven't seem.
But I'll share a true tale of myself when I arrived in NYC, a ex middle class kid from a tiny latinamerican country wishing to attend college in the US. My uncle Loui, who had driven a truck for my dad, an engineer gone bankrupt as a result of shifting political trends back home, had arrived in the States some twenty years earlier and had inheritted a numbers racket from his cuban boss. He bluntly told me: You need work. Here, thet's your corner. You pay me, I don't pay you. I pay police. Take it or leave it. Allowed rackets: prostitution, weed. Not allowed: hard drugs, loan sharking, numbers game. I started like you. Now I'm rich. Your dad, a sage, is poor. Talk about life in the US. I refused

Posted by: WindLessBreeze | September 24, 2010 12:56 PM

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