What We’re Watching: Harvard Geeks On The Big Screen

Darby and I went to see The Social Network this afternoon. It’s a well made film thanks to efforts of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) and director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”).
Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, writing in The New Republic, says, “As a film, visually and rhythmically, and as a story, dramatically, the work earns its place in the history of the field. But as a story about Facebook, it is deeply, deeply flawed.”

Lessig think the film misses one of the central points in the real Facebook story, namely the network and what it means to build something of value on the Internet, a new and fundamentally open platform. Lessig might be right about this, but I can’t really fault the filmmakers for wanting to do what they do, which is to focus on character, plot and the other elements that go into making a successful film.
For those viewers wanting to piece the real story of Facebook together, Business Insider has posted the “10 Most Glaring Lies” in the film. Business Insider also lists who owns what share of the company and what the share is said to be worth.

  • Mark Zuckerberg owns 24% of Facebook, worth $5.3 billion.
  • Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, no longer with the company, owns 6%, worth $1.3 billion.
  • Eduardo Saverin, a Facebook cofounder who once sued the company, owns 5%, worth $1.1 billion.
  • Sean Parker, fired over a drug arrest, owns 4 percent, worth $880 million.
  • Microsoft owns 1.3% of Facebook, worth $286 million.
  • Interpublic Group owns just less than .5%, worth $110 million.

That last point reminds me that advertising is painted into an ugly corner in this film. Saverin, the company’s first CFO, wants the site to make money and he pursues ad dollars to that end, which Zuck and Parker reject outright as totally uncool. Poor advertising.
Taken as a whole, I think the real world valuations cited above help to reveal why we care about this film and its subjects. We live in a culture obsessed by sex, power and money and Zuck is the world’s youngest billionaire. Fact is, we want to know the man in the hoodie. How did he become so fabulously loaded? Was he incredibly lucky? Or totally ruthless? Or did he simply earn it via his tenacity and superior intelligence? The film has answers to these questions, but The Social Network is no documentary. Viewers may come away with more questions than answers, but that’s probably a good thing for Facebook. I know the brand team at Facebook may have been worried about how this film would impact the company, but I don’t see much reason to be concerned. Zuck is portrayed as difficult and childish at times, but that’s not tarnish, it’s just life.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.