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Will Zuckerberg portrayal as 'villain' hurt Facebook?

Movie portrays Facebook CEO as socially inept, angry and calculating

October 1, 2010 03:53 PM ET

Computerworld - In the movie The Social Network, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook doesn't come off as the nicest guy in town.

Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a socially inept and angry young man who becomes more villain than hero through the course of the creation of Facebook. And since the movie is being released as Facebook is experiencing meteoric success, will users care that the man who helped create Facebook might have betrayed his business partner and stolen the idea for the site from fellow students?

Could this movie, which was released nationally today and received critical acclaim, hurt the social network?

"Well, I guess it depends on if he comes off as a smart villain or a dumb and feckless villain," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "A smart villain is always better -- sort of like Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs back in the day. Gates was portrayed as a villain, but a smart one."

In The Social Network, Zuckerberg comes across as the smartest guy in the room. He breezes through classes. He supposedly wrote the initial coding for Facebook while he was drunk. And his Harvard classmates seek him out as a wunderkind of programming.

According to the movie, Zuckerberg had few friends and lost a girlfriend because he lacked the social graces to have a simple conversation without continually launching into tangential conversations and making condescending remarks.

The Zuckerberg in the movie is a man on the other side of the glass always looking in. And it's starting to get under his skin.

"How do you distinguish yourself in a group where everyone got 1,600 on their SATs?" he asks at one point in the film. "The ability to make money doesn't mean anything around here."

So after getting dumped by his girlfriend, he decides that the way to get attention is to hack into computer systems at Harvard, where he is a student, download female students' pictures and set up a site -- Facemash -- where people can compare the hottest women and vote on them.

It may have garnered him admiration among the techie set on campus, but not among the general population.

From there, the movie goes on to show Zuckerberg taking an idea from two fellow students -- twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss -- for a social site for Harvard students. Zuckerberg supposedly strung them along for weeks while he took their idea and used it to create Facebook.

After that, the movie portrays Zuckerberg as turning on his co-founder and CFO, Eduardo Saverin, slowly diminishing his role in the company and eventually deceiving him into signing away his shares of Facebook. Saverin had been Zuckerberg's best friend -- maybe his only friend.

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