Ever since its meteoric ascent to the peak of the digital world, Facebook has arguably been the technology story of the decade. But with its remarkable success has come increased scrutiny, curiosity, and even criticism. This has been recently exemplified in the much-hyped movie “The Social Network,” a film about the founding of Facebook. While the movie has received positive reviews and looks to be a blockbuster hit in the making, viewers would do well to remember that “The Social Network” is clearly a dramatization and should be treated as such. Filmgoers should understand that the primary value of watching the movie is entertainment, not truth.
The film gives an account of the formation of the largest social networking website in the world. Loosely based on the book The Accidental Billionaires, this Aaron B. Sorkin adaptation paints a sensational picture of intrigue and ambition prevalent at Harvard, timeless strategies for creating an instant hit. Rather than focusing on the real societal changes caused by Facebook, at the heart of it all is the 26-year-old Mark E. Zuckerberg, cofounder, billionaire, and former Harvard student.
While the movie has not been released yet, it seems clear from the various trailers, clips, and reviews that actor Jesse A. Eisenberg’s portrayal paints an uncomplimentary picture of Zuckerberg, involving awkwardness, ruthlessness, and potentially even betrayal; the plot itself suggests that Zuckerberg may have committed theft. Neither Facebook nor Zuckerberg offered input—at least in part because Facebook refused to be involved unless the company was referred to by a different name and the setting was not Harvard, according to the film’s producer. Thus, regardless of who was at fault, one crucial side of the narrative is inherently missing from the final product, preventing viewers from seeing the whole story. On top of that, a major source in the book, and consequently the movie, was Eduardo Saverin, who at the time was suing Facebook. Thus, we find it difficult to believe that the film truly captures an unbiased account of Facebook or Zuckerberg’s personality. It seems more likely that the film reduces Zuckerberg to a caricature of himself, as often occurs in fictional works based on true events and individuals.
Additionally, the movie’s presentation of Harvard should be met with skepticism. For one, it emphasizes final clubs’ significant impact on social life. While it is true that these groups do play a role in the campus party scene, they hardly have the omnipresent influence the film displays. This glimpse into Harvard life, then, highlights an aspect that does not represent the majority of students’ experience here.
“The Social Network” was not filmed at Harvard, and for good reason. The administration’s general stance against allowing filming on campus should be lauded: In addition to the inevitable disruption of hosting an expensive movie’s cast and crew (à la “Love Story”), we do not believe that doing so would decrease stereotypes about the university. Fictional films like “The Social Network” do not seek to portray the real Harvard and are unlikely to generate an objective portrait regardless of the location of the set. Ultimately, a more shocking Harvard is far more marketable than the real thing, and “The Social Network” is no exception.