When Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stepped into a live Q&A session last week, it’s impossible to know if he expected to be asked about the movie The Social Network. The film hit in 2010; maybe Zuckerberg figured it was old news and wouldn’t come up.
But this was Zuckerberg’s first public Q&A and was being streamed live. It came up.
"Wow, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about that movie in a while," Zuckerberg said when asked about the film. "I kinda blocked that one out. It was a very interesting experience to watch a movie that was supposedly about my life. Yeah, supposedly."
Part of the issue is that a movie about how a man like Mark Zuckerberg builds a website and a business would be incredibly boring to watch.
“I think the reality is that writing code and building a product and then building a company actually is not a glamorous enough thing to make a movie about.So you can imagine that a lot of the stuff they probably had to embellish and make up. Because if they were really making a movie, it would have been of me, sitting at a computer coding for two hours straight, which probably would have just not been that good of a movie and these guys, I think, want to win awards and sell tickets."
The film starred Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. It was directed by David Fincher, who has also directed Fight Club, the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the more recent Gone Girl.
Zuckerberg says some of the details were right, but huge chunks of story were just plain wrong.
"They went out of their way in the movie to try to get some interesting details correct, like the design of the office. But on the overarching plot in terms of, y'know, why we're building Facebook to help connect the world or how we did it, they just kinda made up a bunch of stuff that I found hurtful.
"I take, y'know, our mission really seriously. We're here, not primarily to just build a company, but to help connect the world and help people stay connected to people they love ... we take that really seriously."
The sort of “overarching plot” issues he has with the film seem to primarily revolve around his love life.
“The thing that I found the most interesting about the movie, was that they kind of made up this whole plot line about how I somehow decided to create Facebook to, I think, attract girls.
“One important piece of context is, the woman who I’m married to [Priscilla Chan], who I’ve been dating for more than 10 years, and I’ve known for more than 10 years, I was actually dating her before I even started Facebook. If somehow I was trying to create Facebook to find more women, that probably would not have gone over too well in my relationship, and I probably would not still be married to her today.”
But Zuckerberg’s issues with The Social Network go back even before the movie’s screenplay was written. The film was based on a book by Ben Mezrich called The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal. That was published in July 2009, but already had deals in the works for a film before it hit the shelves.
Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin served as author Ben Mezrich’s main consultant on the book. In fact, Mezrich said that it was Saverin who approached him first with some of the stories that wound up in the book. At the time, Saverin was in the throes of multiple lawsuits with Zuckerberg. Once those lawsuits were all dismissed and Saverin’s name was added to the Facebook masthead as a co-founder, Saverin stopped consulting on the film.
Before the book launched, Fortune Magazine dubbed it The Book That Facebook Doesn’t Want You to Read. They note that Mezrich himself admitted that he made up whole chunks of the book, including dialogue. Mezrich describes the book as a “dramatic narrative account,” but his publisher Doubleday marketed it as non-fiction.
“There are certain places in the book where I'm sort of doing a legitimate speculation." Mezrich told Fortune before the release. He some of the passages “a best guess.”
In the book, at the beginning of one chapter that describes Zuckerberg breaking into a Harvard residence house to get some data he needs, Mezrich admits that the whole account is pure speculation.
"He might have gotten what he needed in other ways, we certainly don't know for sure every detail; but we can imagine how it might have gone down..."
Mezrich never spoke to Zuckerberg in the writing of the book.
When the book was about to launch, Facebook issued a statement on the contents.
"Ben Mezrich clearly aspires to be the Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele of Silicon Valley. In fact his own publisher put it best. 'The book isn't reportage. It’s big juicy fun.’ We particularly agree with the first part of that and think any readers will concur."