The following is the opening scene from my scintillating new script, The Social Network 2: More Social:
INT. FACEBOOK CAMPUS – DAY
MARK ZUCKERBERG sits in a dope corner office in Silicon Valley. The whole thing’s made out of all this glass and industrial-looking steel – it’s tight. He’s staring at an American flag hanging in a display case on the wall. It’s tattered and blood-soaked and looks like it could’ve been stolen by Nicholas Cage. (But it’s probably from the 1700’s or some shit.)
His ASSISTANT walks in. Some chick. Whatever, it doesn’t matter because this is a story about tech. But she’s hot, so that’s cool. She looks at him, deep in thought, knowing he’s a genius.
What are you thinking about, Mark?
Thank God. Someone needs to save it.
I know, Assistant. I know.
He adjusts his grey t-shirt that totally fits great, and moves over to the flag. He gently touches its plexiglass case.
Softly at first, but then growing louder, Mark begins to sing God Bless America.
God bless America / Land that I love…
He has the voice of an angel.
* * *
In case you can’t tell, I’ve definitely seen The Social Network. It’s one of the best, and only, documentaries I’ve ever watched. (Note: I know it’s not a documentary. But also, isn’t it though?)
Sure, the movie is a fictitious retelling of a pretty questionable “non-fiction” book, but there are a few basic elements the story gets correct when it comes to the creation of Facebook:
One, Mark Zuckerberg’s claim to coding-fame at Harvard was creating “Facemash”; a website that ranked the hotness of Harvard students. He ripped off the idea for “Facemash” from a site called “Hot or Not”, and used students’ photos without their permission to create it.
Two, whether you call what Zuckerberg did “stealing” or “innovation”, it’s almost impossible to say he came up with the initial idea for Facebook himself. Before the Winklevoss twins came to Zuckerberg to build their “Harvard Connection” site, there’s no evidence that he was working on a social networking site of his own for Harvard University (one that would slowly expand to other universities around the country). And it seems pretty clear he strung them along so he could get his own version launched first.
Three, in the early days of Facebook’s success (back when it was still “The Facebook”), Zuckerberg used his access to do some shady stuff. He used Facebook login information to hack into the private email accounts of Harvard Crimson writers and spy on them. And after that, he hacked into the Winklevoss’ rival social networking site “ConnectU” (the new “Harvard Connection”) in an attempt to sabotage it.
Each of these acts alone probably wouldn’t have meant much. After all, he was only 19-20 years-old when this stuff happened. And I’m sure a lot of you are probably thinking, “Are you going to try to hold everything in someone’s past against them?! He was just a kid in college!” And to that I would say, “Why are you shouting?” I would also say that I agree.
I mean, I was in college once, and I too was a garbage person. A lot of us were. And then we grew up, we matured, and now some of us are barely considered trash. (We’re closer to like clutter or recyclables or something.)
So I’m not here to say that Mark Zuckerberg is a terrible person. I’m just here to point out that before Mark Zuckerberg had the power to control his own narrative, we got some brief glimpses into his behavior, and they made one thing very clear: from the beginning, Zuckerberg had all the makings of your typical entrepreneur/CEO. A guy who was willing to do what it took to be successful; even if it meant screwing over a couple of waspy twins in a rowboat in the process.
The Winklevoss twins ended up with $65 million after their initial suit against Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s stock in the company is now worth $24 billion.
No one is doubting that Zuckerberg built Facebook into an empire since then. What people are doubting is whether or not the methods he used to build it have changed. Because it’s been 13 years since Facebook’s creation, and it still remains the remarkably secretive brainchild of one guy. A company that says one thing in public, only to be later contradicted when inside information actually slips out.
Facebook claims to be a neutral platform that cares about its users privacy, but its entire business model revolves around collecting information about its users and using that information to influence them.
Facebook presents itself as the embodiment of the millennial company; a forward-thinking, pro-social organization whose sole purpose is to bring us all closer together. And yet, the more we learn about their business, the more it seems like business as usual. A company that doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes and sends its profits overseas. And what few progressive beliefs they do promote, like “Universal Basic Income”, they promote because the policy would help their bottom line.
Facebook claims to be politically detached, but every day we’re learning more about how such an idea is impossible. They claimed they weren’t a news organization until we learned their “unfiltered news feed” has an editorial board; one that injects certain topics/stories into the news algorithm from time-to-time. Then, they claimed they weren’t involved with Russian disinformation activities during the 2016 election, only to have that claim turn from “no way” to “maybe a little” to something that seems much larger than they care to admit.
Basically, the more we learn about Facebook, the more we discover it’s a lot like the people who use it. Only posting the good stuff. Only tagging the best photos. Presenting a version of itself that simply isn’t real.
So why would its CEO be any different?
If a CEO is in charge of creating the culture of his/her company, then isn’t the company’s behavior a reflection of the person who runs it?
Just like the little things we’ve learned about Facebook over the years, there is no smoking gun for Mark Zuckerberg. There’s nothing that would definitively say he’s a bad dude, or that his motives are the least bit sinister. And such a smoking gun will never exist.
But we all have a feeling, don’t we?
The way that nothing is ever quite what it seems with him; and that everything he does just feels a little… off.
How every public statement he makes sounds like it was written by a computer algorithm trying to learn how to feel feelings:
Or how those statements are starting to sound like they were approved by a Democratic think-tank; specifically tailored to earn him the highest approval rating possible:
Or how the photo-ops from his 50-state tour reminded me of an alien who has landed on Earth and is trying to understand human behavior:
For all the work Mark Zuckerberg puts into shaping and maintaining his public persona, he still acts like a guy who’s hiding something. And my worry is that it’s the one piece of information we want most from someone who is running for office:
Why are you, Mark Zuckerberg, suddenly so interested in politics? Why are you acting like a person who’s running, while insisting that you’re not? Why would you even want to be president?
Until he offers a convincing reason, I, along with everyone else, will be left to speculate about his motivations. To wonder whether it’s a chip on his shoulder, or a god complex, or a hunger for more power, or a desire to use his Presidency to help Facebook, or just a genuine calling to do good.
* * *
The following is another excerpt from my amazing script, The Social Network 2: More Social:
INT. FACEBOOK LAIR – NIGHT
Mark stands in front of the Facebook mainframe hidden beneath the mountains of Palo Alto. He’s using its database to calculate the perfect personality for an American President.
A million votes for President would be cool.
But you know what would be even cooler?
(a beat, then)
A billion votes for President.
Mark smiles, the light from the screens hitting his face.
But sir, you do know there’s not a billion people in Amer–
A billion votes.
* * *
In the world of politics and journalism, it’s seen as hacky and unprofessional to psychoanalyze someone’s behavior and extrapolate truths from there. It makes sense. A person’s emotional state, and what they’re thinking at any given time, is unknowable.
At the same time, sometimes it keeps us from looking at the obvious. And you can learn a lot from someone just by observing their emotional behavior and learning a fact or two about them they didn’t want you to know.
We could take note from what’s happened with Donald Trump. While the smoking guns for his presidency are enough to fill the White House Lawn, we could’ve predicted his entire administration from a mere few factors: his lying, his lack of empathy, his housing discrimination lawsuits. Right there, you have pretty much everything you need.
There may already be enough evidence to make a similar case for Mark Zuckerberg. And I don’t think it’s too difficult to guess what his presidency would look like; that it would lack transparency, that some central part of the agenda would be hidden, that it would be far-removed from the problems facing average Americans. All you have to do is look at his reign of Facebook to figure it out.
Past the formulated photos and the perfectly-worded updates, you can find the real truth. And it’s never how it looks from the outside looking in.