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.