Face­book fixes

Author Ben Mezrich dis­cusses his book about the founders of the pop­u­lar web­site.

Los Angeles Times - - Business - Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kauf­man steve.zeitchik@latimes.com amy.kauf­man@latimes.com

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.


Eric Char­bon­neau

Ben Mezrich’s tech­niques irked some crit­ics.

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