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Soon, the story of the world's largest social network, Facebook, will be told in one of the most prominent formats: the big screen.

The Hollywood depiction of how Mark Zuckerberg and company started Facebook and built it into a billion dollar company is not exactly welcome news, however, for Facebook and Zuckerberg. The reason: The Social Network arguably contains as much fiction as truth, and casts Facebook's CEO in a fairly unimpressive light.

In the movie, Zuckerberg's dirty laundry is on display for a mainstream audience. From the claims by former Harvard classmates that Zuckerberg stole their idea to a falling out with a former Harvard classmate and co-founder, indieWIRE writes that "Zuckerberg’s habitual smugness is his defining factor" in The Social Network.

But while the movie may be only loosely based on truth, and Zuckerberg may not be as dislikeable a character in real life as the movie portrays him, The Social Network isn't exactly something Facebook and Zuckerberg need or want at this point. After all, this movie, for many, will become the 'official' narrative of Facebook's history. And it ain't pretty, even if it ain't true. The risk: a mainstream perception that the coolest site in the world was started and run by really uncool people.

So what do you do if you're a 26 year-old billionaire who may be worried about his public image? Pull out your wallet (or stock certificates in this case) and cast yourself in a better light of course! And that's exactly what some believe Zuckerberg is doing with the rumored $100m donation he's expected to announce today through another prominent media platform, The Oprah Winfrey Show.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook's co-founder and head honcho is starting a foundation with a $100m grant of Facebook stock he owns. The foundation will use the funds primarily in an effort to improve the Newark, New Jersey public education system, which is one of the worst-performing in the United States.

Where did Zuckerberg find his inspiration for his first large philanthropic act? The Wall Street Journal explains:

Mr. Zuckerberg has had a long-standing interest in education, particularly teachers' low salaries, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Over the last year, he had a series of meetings with people involved in education and developed a relationship with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

While it would be wrong to question Zuckerberg's genuine interest in education and philanthropy, the timing of the report announcing the young billionaire's first foray into the world of philanthropy is hard to ignore, and probably far too close to The Social Network's official release to be coincidental. Zuckerberg's character has been called into question in the past, and The Social Network will certainly cause more individuals in the mainstream to question who he really is too.

A $100m donation to public education probably won't stop that, but it's unlikely that Facebook needs a philanthropic PR push. So long as Facebook the product remains attractive to consumers, the unattractive things the people behind it may or may not have done to get where they are today won't matter so much. More important is the fact that Facebook faces a number of challenges in keeping its product attractive and building a viable long-term business.

Given this, it would probably be wise for the company's founder to remind himself: the people who use Facebook have always been far more interested in Facebook the product; most of them could care less about the wunderkind behind it.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 September, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

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Ashworth Kaitlin

It's true, the timing makes it seem to be a pretty obvious PR move, but at least something good is coming out of it (though announcing it on Oprah seems to be overdoing it). Hopefully he will continue to get involved in philanthropy, as opposed to just doing it this one time.

almost 6 years ago

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Simon Gornick

Excellent post - on a pretty obvious PR move. This kind of meglamaniacal engineering is slightly ironic on the basis that most of Zuckerberg's billions are based on the bizarre valuations of a private company, that's only tradable on a rather shadowy elite secondary market. I'd like to see Newark cash out their stock. The other ironic element raised by all this is why Facebook's valuation is so high. The ball started rolling big time when Microsoft bought a small stake in the company. Why did they do it? Were they pumping up a company that they saw as a major roadblock for Google? Did they want to artificially elevate FB's price so that it would inevitably come down when the ad returns failed to meet expectations? Hmm. Silicon Valley is full of zero-sum, malevolent, machivellian geeks. Perhaps this was another move on their bizarre other-worldly chess board.

almost 6 years ago

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Pablo Edwards

I can't wait to see the movie. I thought at first that it would be a pretty big bust, but it actually looks pretty good.

almost 6 years ago

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