Facebook Truth Stranger Than Hollywood Fiction

Movie script a good tale, but real story is deeper

By Owen Thomas
|  Thursday, Jul 9, 2009  |  Updated 1:18 PM PDT
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Facebook Truth Stranger Than Hollywood Fiction

AP

What intrigues lie behind Mark Zuckerberg's founding of Facebook? A new Hollywood movie won't enlighten us.

Tinseltown never gets Silicon Valley right. An upcoming movie about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called The Social Network won't change that reality.

ScriptShadow, a site which reviews scripts circulating in Hollywood, claims to have gotten a look at the Sony production, written by West Wing auteur Aaron Sorkin and loosely based on a book about the founding of Facebook, The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich. If the script obtained by ScriptShadow's Carson Reeves is authentic, we're in for a good tale -- but one that only scratches the surface.

According to the script, Zuckerberg got the inspiration for Facebook after a girlfriend broke up with him. As his revenge, he coded a site called FaceMash which pulled photos of coeds from Harvard websites and allowed users to rate them, "Hot or Not" style. He talked to classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin rowers who later competed in the Beijing Olympics, about launching a social network. He then launched his own site, then called TheFacebook, with help from another Harvard student named Eduardo Saverin. TheFacebook caught on like wildfire, while the Winklevosses' site, ConnectU, struggled. That much is backed up by court documents and reports from the Harvard Crimson and elsewhere.

The script suggests that Sean Parker, a cofounder of Napster, popped into the picture and persuaded Zuckerberg to oust Saverin from the promising startup. Parker makes a promising villain -- the seducer who leads the young genius astray.

According to ScriptShadow, the movie ends with a friendless Zuckerberg being sued for billions by Cameron, Tyler, and Saverin. It makes for a great story of geek comeuppance. But that's not quite what happened.

The Winklevosses actually sued Saverin and Zuckerberg both, while Saverin pursued his own lawsuit against Zuckerberg -- a far messier legal scenario than the purported script suggests. Earlier this year, Saverin and Zuckerberg settled their suit, with Saverin added back to Facebook's corporate website as a founder. The Winklevosses settled their lawsuit for millions, not billions -- and are feuding with their former lawyers about the bill, claiming that key evidence was left out of the case.

What did they know about Zuckerberg that never made it into the legal record? Finding that out would make for a fascinating movie. Sadly, it's not the one we're getting.

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