August 24, 2010
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg gets a bitter taste of his own medicine
Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old CEO of Facebook, took on a Warholian idea—that anybody could be famous—and created a Website that allows users to be stars of their own lives. Never again would the line between what is public and what is private be clearly understood. By allowing private citizens to reinvent themselves as public figures, Facebook signaled the end of privacy.
And now, the architect of the most powerful social media tool of his generation can’t handle his own spotlight. Turns out, public scrutiny is not so fun.
Now that Zuckerberg is the subject of a big Hollywood movie, “The Social Network,” – which aptly touts the tagline “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”—he is unhappy with the way his image has been cast. Over the weekend, reports at TheWrap.com depicted the young CEO on the verge of a meltdown; and an article in The New York Times detailed fraught negotiations between Facebook and the filmmakers.
“I started Facebook to improve the world, and make it a more transparent place,” Zuckerberg told TheWrap.com’s Sharon Waxman last month at a media conference in Sun Valley. “This movie portrays me as someone who built Facebook so I could meet girls.”
Whether Zuckerberg is peeved at the perceived misinterpretation, or if he’s just irked at being subject to interpretation, either way, he isn’t handling it well.
Earlier this summer, at the AllThingsD conference on digital media, Zuckerberg made his usual hoodie-adorned appearance, but seemed tense. Waxman wrote on her blog, Waxword, that Zuckerberg seemed “nervous”; during his presentation, he “stammered” and “sweated” a lot. Not exactly the picture of Facebook’s calculated cool. In real media, Zuckerberg is learning, you can’t “untag” yourself from an unflattering photo.
Zuckerberg is hardly the first anxious Jew. But barely pushing 30, and running the world’s most popular social network site under the fishbowl scrutiny of the larger media, Zuckerberg is contending with massive—and massively unique—pressures to perform. He is the Julius Caesar of the Internet, presiding over an illusory empire of 540 million.
From this vantage point, it appears he doesn’t much like the attention. He doesn’t like being exposed. Privacy, he’s learning, is a rare and precious thing. It’s something the creators of “The Social Network” didn’t grant him. The director David Fincher and the writer Aaron Sorkin—two of Hollywood’s most powerful filmmakers—chose to base their movie on a more lurid account of Zuckerberg’s rise than the official version Zuckerberg would have preferred.
According to TheWrap.com, “Facebook negotiated for months with Sony to get them to rely on an authorized history of the company written by New York Times writer David Kirkpatrick, instead of a more rollicking, sexy account by Ben Mezrich, ‘The Accidental Billionaires.’”
“Behind the scenes,” The New York Times reported, “Mr. Zuckerberg and his colleagues have been locked in a tense standoff with the filmmakers, who portray Facebook as founded on a series of betrayals, then fueled by the unappeasable craving of almost everyone for ‘friends’ — the Facebook term for those who connect on its online pages — that they will never really have.”
According to the Times, Facebook “fretted for months” over how to respond to their PR crisis, deciding, in the end, to simply ignore it. Biding his time before his millions of friends get a glimpse of their wearied leader and his motives, Zuckerberg is railing against the film, trying to discredit it with spiteful comments and hoping upon hope that it doesn’t become a cult classic.
Zuckerberg’s fast rise and flimsy footing is an object lesson in the limits of power. What happens when the world you create is not the world you want to live in? Where good intentions give way to troubling results, and friends are “friends” only so long as you deteriorate enough to interest them.
“The Social Network” trailer:
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