Author Ben Mezrich discusses his book about the founders of the popular website.
The company has resolved concerns raised by Canada’s privacy watchdog.
Ben Mezrich is the author of “The Accidental Billionaires,” the story of Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin and the other colorful characters behind the wildly popular — and highly valued — social-networking site. The book forms the basis of the upcoming film “The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher. The movie centers on the web of relationships between Zuckerberg, Saverin and other Harvard students, who alternately collaborate and battle over credit.
The Boston-based Mezrich is no stranger to Hollywood, having previously written “Bringing Down the House,” which served as the foundation for the whiz-kid blackjack movie “21.” Once again in “Billionaires,” he examines how a group of social misfits, armed with cunning and ambition, are able to outsmart a powerful establishment (and get rich in the process).
“Billionaires” has generated controversy among critics who say that Mezrich — who, incidentally, says he logs on to his own Facebook page several times a day — uses fictional techniques in a nonfiction context, and relies heavily on the recollections of Saverin but not Zuckerberg, who wouldn’t cooperate. We had several conversations with Mezrich to discuss his relationships with the personalities in the book and how they’re depicted in the film. What follows is a distillation of those conversations. There’s been some hay made of the fact that Zuckerberg wouldn’t talk to you. How hard did you try and why do you think he turned you down?
I spent a year kind of trying to get Mark to talk to me. It was a little like “Waiting for Godot.” There were a lot of the “maybes” before the “no.” I think he didn’t want this to be an authorized story, and even though it wouldn’t have been done that way I think that’s what he was afraid of. It’s a little ironic. Facebook is all about opening boundaries, and yet I can’t get this guy to sit down and talk to me. Why do you think Saverin decided to tell you his story?
I got an e-mail at 2 in the morning, completely random, in February 2008 from a kid whose best friend was Eduardo. It just basically said, “My best friend cofounded Facebook and nobody knows who he is.” He was angry. He felt betrayed. And then Eduardo met me and started telling me these stories about how he’d been screwed over.
Then my book proposal leaked out on Gawker — and I don’t know exactly what the trigger was — but Eduardo called me and said, “You can never speak to me again.” It was six months of interviewing him, and then he cut off conversations. I heard he got a billion-dollar settlement from Facebook. A billion dollars is a lot of money. If someone offered me a billion dollars not to talk … Did you think Zuckerberg would be as upset by the book — or the movie — as he has suggested he is in some of his public comments?
He does come off pretty well in the movie. It’s not negative at all. It’s [simply the story of] an anti-hero and driven geek turned into a powerful figure. So you think he might actually like the movie if he saw it?
I would love to hear what he actually thinks of it. And I do think it’s a very fair portrayal of the different points of view. It’s the true story of how Facebook originated. Facebook wants to keep calling it fiction, but there’s a lot of documentation. It may be the most documented movie ever made.
Why, then, do you think the company has reacted in as dismissive a manner as they have, both to the book and to the movie?
They would rather a different story were being told. Personally, I think it puts Facebook on the map in a whole other way. What other 26-year-old is having a major movie being made out of them? It puts Zuckerberg up there with Bill Gates. Silicon Valley is littered with highfliers brought low. Do you think Facebook is the exception?
I believe Facebook is going all the way. They’re going to reach a billion members and will be the biggest company in the world. It will be a platform everyone goes on the Internet through. Yes, they have to deal with the privacy thing and a few other issues. But it’s not like MySpace of Friendster. This is something so usable, it feels like it’s your own. It really is a village.
Ben Mezrich’s techniques irked some critics.