If you see only one monster movie this year, make it “The Social Network”

October 4, 2010

Here at Gregory FCA, we decided last week to be among the first viewers in the country to see David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” So Friday, late in the day and hours before the film’s general release, we bought out the house at the nearby Bryn Mawr Film Institute, where I serve on the board, and invited about 200 of our closest friends to join us for the free premier.

For communications professionals, the film is so much more than just a retelling of the story of Facebook. Rather it opens to public display many of the issues we grapple with daily in back of walls, away from clients and the public.

In deep relief and unflinching candor, “The Social Network” challenges us to examine whether social media draws us closer together, or if it drives us further apart, and whether social media, such as Facebook, is about community and sharing, or exclusivity and manipulation.

Drawing from three distinct points of view, the film recounts how Facebook rose from the obsession of an arrogant, insecure Harvard sophomore (or should I say asshole, as he is repeatedly called in the movie), to one of the most powerful communication mediums of our time with some 500 million members and a market value of $33 billion.

It lays bare a world where status trumps even money and a cold, calculating consciousness wins out over loyalty and human emotion. Mark Zuckerberg is drawn in dark, heartless ink, driven by his outsider status to embarrass and ostracize others through his sheer computing prowess.

In Zuckerberg’s world, creating a site that humiliates Harvard co-eds, steals others’ intellectual property, and crashes the computer network of the country’s most elite college is all fair game and paybacks to those whom he believes are dismissive of his considerable intellectual capabilities. Victims include his first real love, his only real friend, and two blue-blood Olympic rowers who at first refuse to sue Zuckerberg due to a quaint, Havardian sense of civility.

Irony reigns as we serve witness to the birth of social media at the hands of a seemingly near-autistic, anti-social being. As consumers and professional communicators, we are left to ask ourselves whether Facebook’s calculated Rosemary’s Baby-like birth — which represents the antithesis of its public persona — is worthy of our patronage.

Now we know that every feature, including the status bar, was conceived from an adolescent drive to determine who is sleeping with whom, and cash in the sexual chits that come from being that kid. The one who hacked a site or raised some venture capital or made millions while still in college.

So what will be the public relations price paid for such a monstrous portrayal? It will be great, as testified by Zuckerberg’s decision the other week to donate $100 million to the Newark Public School System. I guess Zuckerberg’s PR people think that the best way to get out in front of this steamroller is to slow it with wads of $100 bills. But you can’t flatten graphic storytelling.

Millions of those who love Facebook will now have to re-evaluate their need to post those vacation photos for the world to see — particularly, as the movie suggests, because Zuckerberg’s greatest gift is simply the ability to exploit the blind spots of others.

Just who owns those vacation photos and personal data we all post to Facebook anyway? After seeing the movie, you can’t help but wonder how that data is already being exploited, for reasons much more hideous than the simple sin of greed. So whatever happened to Friendster anyway? Maybe I should renew my old account.

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Sam Scott
8 years 6 months ago

The film is indeed a triumph of Sorkin's dialogues and the performances of some wonderful actors. Seeing a 'smart' film in these days of movie/video game interchangeability is downright refreshing. Regarding who owns what, my inner-voice guide tells me, 'you post it, you've given it away', illustrating both the beauty and the dark side of the internet.