Un­wanted face time

Face­book’s founder is the sub­ject of a new movie, and let’s just say he and Hollywood didn’t col­lab­o­rate.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Jes­sica Guynn re­port­ing from palo alto Clau­dia Eller re­port­ing from Los An­ge­les

The com­pany Mark Zucker­berg founded in his Har­vard dorm room six years ago was built on the idea that peo­ple would want to share per­sonal in­for­ma­tion — even very per­sonal in­for­ma­tion — on the Web.

Yet the 26-year-old self-made bil­lion­aire has man­aged to keep a low pub­lic pro­file even as Face­book Inc. shot to star­dom in Sil­i­con Val­ley, cat­a­pult­ing Zucker­berg past Ap­ple Inc.’s Steve Jobs to be­come the world’s 35th-rich­est Amer­i­can on the lat­est Forbes list.

That is about to change. “The So­cial Net­work,” from di­rec­tor David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, about the messy and con­tentious found­ing of Face­book, is mak­ing its de­but at the New York Film Fes­ti­val on Fri­day, and the world will soon know a lot more about Zucker­berg — or at least Hollywood’s ver­sion of him.

The movie, with the provoca­tive tag line “You don’t get to 500 mil­lion friends with­out mak­ing a few en­e­mies,” is an un­flat­ter­ing por­trait fo­cus­ing on the le­gal clashes be­tween Zucker­berg and Har­vard

class­mates over who should get credit for the so­cial net­work­ing phe­nom­e­non.

Wor­ried that the film could dam­age Zucker­berg’s im­age, Face­book ex­ec­u­tives pressed the film­mak­ers for changes they did not get. Now the com­pany — of­ten crit­i­cized for be­ing too cava­lier with the in­ti­mate de­tails of other peo­ple’s lives — is brac­ing for a movie that casts its chief ex­ec­u­tive as a schem­ing back­stab­ber ac­cused of steal­ing the idea for Face­book.

“If this movie be­comes big, a lot of peo­ple will be ex­posed to a side of Mark Zucker­berg that won’t re­flect pos­i­tively on pri­vacy is­sues on Face­book,” said Augie Ray, a se­nior an­a­lyst at For­rester Re­search who fol­lows so­cial net­work­ing com­pa­nies.

Nei­ther Zucker­berg nor his close as­so­ci­ates co­op­er­ated with the Sony Pic­tures film, set for wide re­lease Oct. 1. That has raised thorny ques­tions about how much artis­tic li­cense film­mak­ers should take in telling the story of an am­bi­tious en­tre­pre­neur who gave birth to an In­ter­net sen­sa­tion while still a teenager.

“The film is at its most fic­tional in its portrayal of Mark,” Face­book in­vestor and board mem­ber Peter Thiel said. “It’s a pretty good portrayal of how busi­ness gets done in Hollywood, but not how busi­ness gets done in Sil­i­con Val­ley.”

The film­mak­ers say they set out to cap­ture a gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing moment, weav­ing a story from dif­fer­ent points of view of the found­ing of Face­book.

“I would not want a movie made when I am 26 years old about de­ci­sions I made when I was a 19-year-old kid. I am very sym­pa­thetic. But I didn’t in­vent Face­book,” pro­ducer Scott Rudin said.

“My per­sonal feel­ing is that Mark Zucker­berg did not steal any­thing,” added the Os­car-win­ning pro­ducer, whose cred­its in­clude “No Coun­try for Old Men” and “Julie & Ju­lia.” “This is the movie, the story of a guy with a re­mark­able vi­sion.”

Har­vard ori­gins

A com­puter geek with a re­bel­lious streak who turned down big bucks and jobs at AOL and Mi­crosoft to go to col­lege, Zucker­berg, as a Har­vard sopho­more, hacked into the uni­ver­sity com­put­ers in Fe­bru­ary 2004 to put the “face books” — year­book-style pho­tos of in­com­ing fresh­men — on­line.

The web­site was an in­stant suc­cess. Zucker­berg and his co­horts moved to Sil­i­con Val­ley, where they tapped into ven­ture cap­i­tal and opened Face­book to high school stu­dents, cor­po­rate net­works and then to ev­ery­one. Face­book is now the dom­i­nant so­cial net­work­ing site for most of the globe, with about 550 mil­lion users.

Zucker­berg has said he has grown up since he was a col­lege stu­dent ac­cused of ques­tion­able ethics in build­ing Face­book. If Zucker­berg has achieved a level of ma­tu­rity, so has Face­book. The com­pany has more than 1,700 em­ploy­ees and ris­ing sales ex­pected to hit $2 bil­lion this year.

Yet Face­book’s airy Palo Alto head­quar­ters still hums with youth­ful en­ergy and ir­rev­er­ence. A large white wall is cov­ered in scrib­bles and doo­dles that, in homage to Face­book users who leave com­ments on one an­other’s walls, says, “Write some­thing....” En­gi­neers zoom by on RipStik skate­boards on their way to play speed chess or grub on gourmet bar­be­cue on the rooftop pa­tio. They work long hours, so the cafe­te­ria, staffed with ex-Google chefs, serves up three meals a day.

On the front door is a gi­ant sign that says “hack,” stressing the im­por­tance of try­ing new things and un­der­scor­ing the en­gi­neer­ing cul­ture that still dom­i­nates. “Hackathons,” in which en­gi­neers work all night on cre­ative projects that are not part of their day jobs, hap­pen reg­u­larly.

Zucker­berg, who de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this story, has said that his per­sonal mis­sion is to make the In­ter­net a more con­nected place. That mis­sion could be­come quite profitable for him and Face­book: The more peo­ple share in­for­ma­tion about them­selves on­line, the more money Face­book stands to make sell­ing highly tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing. Zucker­berg al­ready is worth $6.9 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Forbes.

Face­book ex­ec­u­tives say they are com­mit­ted to giv­ing their users the tools they need to pro­tect their pri­vacy. But the com­pany, es­ti­mated to be worth $34 bil­lion based on the value of shares on the sec­ondary mar­ket, has come un­der fire from con­sumer groups, pri­vacy ad­vo­cates and law­mak­ers who say it puts its am­bi­tions ahead of its users. Even prom­i­nent voices in the technology com­mu­nity have expressed reser­va­tions that Face­book keeps push­ing users to re­veal more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion than they signed up for.

Low-key ex­is­tence

Zucker­berg keeps his own life out of the pub­lic eye. At Face­book, he sits among a sea of desks like the hun­dreds of other work­ers at the com­pany. A ca­sual vis­i­tor to Face­book might not even spot Zucker­berg in T-shirt and jeans. He sticks close to the of­fice, usu­ally tak­ing one two-week vacation each year with col­lege sweet­heart Priscilla Chan, who’s in med­i­cal school at UC San Fran­cisco study­ing to be a pe­di­a­tri­cian. On the week­ends, he roasts pig and goat in his back­yard for Face­book pals, hangs out at lo­cal dive bar An­to­nio’s Nut House and takes Man­darin lessons.

Google and other technology com­pa­nies are keep­ing a close vigil as Face­book mounts what ap­pears to them as a not-so-friendly takeover of the In­ter­net. Whereas Google’s founders boasted they would or­ga­nize the world’s in­for­ma­tion, Zucker­berg is in­tent on con­nect­ing the world’s peo­ple — as well as land­ing such big­name ad­ver­tis­ers as Co­caCola Co. and JPMor­gan Chase & Co. and turn­ing a big profit along the way.

Zucker­berg has re­buffed all of­fers to buy his com­pany. Friends say he has a gift for de­lay­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion, get­ting by for years in a spare one-bed­room apart­ment with a mat­tress on the floor and dial-up In­ter­net ac­cess. Tak­ing his com­pany pub­lic would prob­a­bly be the biggest ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley since Google’s in 2004. He owns more than a quar­ter of Face­book’s stock and con­trols votes for three of five board seats.

With the re­lease of the movie, Zucker­berg may never have much pri­vacy again. In what might be viewed as a cam­paign to soften his im­age, he agreed to an in-depth in­ter­view with the New Yorker mag­a­zine and is sched­uled to ap­pear on “Oprah” on Fri­day, where he is ex­pected to pledge $100 mil­lion to help Ne­wark, N.J., pub­lic schools.

Rudin said the film­mak­ers de­cided against hav­ing Face­book par­tic­i­pate in the movie af­ter Face­book ex­ec­u­tive El­liot Schrage de­manded in their first meet­ing that they change the names of Face­book and Har­vard. Schrage de­clined to com­ment.

“In the end they would want too many con­trols and we would want too many lib­er­ties,” Rudin said.

Tak­ing artis­tic li­cense with real peo­ple has stirred con­tro­versy be­fore.

“A Beau­ti­ful Mind,” which won eight Os­cars, came un­der fire for sim­pli­fy­ing and omit­ting key de­tails from the life of schizophrenic math­e­ma­ti­cian John Forbes Nash Jr. In try­ing to bring dra­matic ten­sion, Hollywood scriptwrit­ers some­times fudge facts. Some lat­i­tude in de­pict­ing pub­lic fig­ures such as those por­trayed in Peter Mor­gan’s “The Queen” has be­come more ac­cept­able.

Pri­vately, Zucker­berg has ac­knowl­edged his dis­com­fort with hav­ing a film cre­ate a char­ac­ter who the pub­lic will as­sume is re­ally he. In a nod to the con­tro­ver­sial na­ture of the sub­ject that film­mak­ers tack­led, the first words the Zucker­berg char­ac­ter ut­ters in “The So­cial Net­work” are: “That’s not what hap­pened.”

Amy Pas­cal, Sony Pic­tures’ co-chair­woman, says she un­der­stands Zucker­berg’s trep­i­da­tion at be­ing the sub­ject of a medium as pow­er­ful as film.

“I think any­one who sees one­self on a great big screen is go­ing to have com­pli­cated feel­ings,” she said. jes­sica.guynn@latimes.com clau­dia.eller@latimes.com

Robert Gal­braith

IN FO­CUS: Bil­lion­aire Mark Zucker­berg, shown un­veil­ing Face­book’s “Places” fea­ture last month, is por­trayed in the film “The So­cial Net­work.”


Eric Risberg

Mark Zucker­berg, shown in 2008, is the sub­ject of the movie “The So­cial Net­work,” which pre­mieres Fri­day in New York.

START-UP: A younger Zucker­berg and friends, in a rented house in Los Al­tos, Calif., work on what would even­tu­ally be­come Face­book.

Face­book vis­i­tors in the U.S. each month

(In mil­lions)

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