Mark Zuckerberg Gives Up Privacy Controls

“SNL” appearance marks the latest suggestion that the Facebook founder reluctantly realizes that “The Social Network” may be the second-best thing to ever happen to him.

By Jere Hester
|  Sunday, Jan 30, 2011  |  Updated 8:15 PM PDT
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Mark Zuckerberg is going public.

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News last week that someone hacked Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page elicited, no doubt, schadenfreude-driven chuckles amid constant concerns about privacy on the half-billion-member social networking site.

But Zuckerberg these days seems to be giving up his own privacy controls – and appears ready to deliver some intentional laughs at his own expense, as evidenced by his cameo on “Saturday Night Live,” in which he briefly parried with his movie doppelganger Jessie Eisenberg.

Zuckerberg, at least initially, couldn’t have been happy with “The Social Network,” a fictionalized flick that portrays him, at best, as an arrogant kid with no social skills, and at worst, a schemer ready to betray his friends in a mouse click.

But “The Social Network” may be the second best thing that ever happened to Zuckerberg. Since the movie’s release last fall, his company’s value has grown to a reported $50 billion, he made an impressive showing on “60 Minutes” and was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

He’s gone from the name behind Facebook to the face of Facebook as he inches, between the movie, press accolades and the TV appearances (and we’ll include Andy Samberg’s imitation of him), toward becoming the king of all (social) media.

Zuckerberg seems to have accepted, if not embraced, a very old media precept: Let ‘em say what they want about you, as long as they get the name right.

Not that he’s quite ready for primetime – or even late night – when it comes to comedy. The awkwardness of his meeting Eisenberg and Samberg was the joke, but was compounded by his own stiff performance. Zuckerberg did, though, manage to get off the line of the night: “Those guys are such nerds,” he said of Eisenberg and Samberg. “Come on – I invented poking!”

Showing a sense of humor certainly won’t hurt Zuckerberg’s image, given how he came off in the movie. But in the long term, he’s probably not destined to become one of those larger than life characters  – like Ted Turner, Richard Branson, Donald Trump or even Steve Jobs – who, at times, outshine the brands they helped create. We suspect Zuckerberg will settle for emulating Bill Gates, another Harvard dropout wunderkind who took some time to grow into his tech statesman role.

Perhaps sensing a shift in Zuckerberg’s public reputation or maybe feeling a little guilty, Aaron Sorkin, the hyper-articulate writer of “The Social Network,” tried to make nice when he won a Golden Globe for the screenplay this month.

"I wanted to say to Mark Zuckerberg, if you're watching tonight, Rooney Mara's character makes a prediction at the beginning of the movie, she was wrong. You turned out to be a great entrepreneur, a visionary and an altruist," Sorkin said.

He apparently was referring, in part, to Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark school system around the time of the movie’s release and his pledge last month to give away half his fortune.

It’s unclear, though, whether the 26-year-old billionaire is on the same page as his hacker, who posted a note in his name asking: “If Facebook needs money, instead of going to the banks, why doesn't Facebook let its users invest in Facebook in a social way?”

It’s a good question, and we’ll ask one of our own, albeit of less import: If “The Social Network” wins the Best Picture Academy Award next month, will Zuckerberg join the film's creators on stage? The Oscar, in some respects, would be his award as much as theirs – and Facebook, if nothing else, is about sharing.
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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