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Video: Watch 'The Social Network' trailer

Image: Mark Zuckerberg
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Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, is the one most wounded by a film that seems to portray him as someone who created the application “to get girls or to gain power.”
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updated 8/23/2010 9:57:04 AM ET 2010-08-23T13:57:04
OPINION

It was bound to happen. Facebook, the subject of a big Hollywood movie — is now coping with becoming a cultural icon and a corporate monolith.

And they don’t like it one bit.

In a well-reported piece in The New York Times this weekend, we learn that Facebook has tried to have it both ways with “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s much-anticipated new thriller from Sony.

They’ve tried to shape the direction of the movie, and when that didn’t really work, they’ve tried to ignore it.

That’s not really working either.

Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook (played by doppelganger Jesse Eisenberg), is the one most wounded by a film that seems to portray him as someone who created the application “to get girls or to gain power,” according to Chris Hughes, a co-founder who left in 2007, who spoke to the Times.

Zuckerberg told WaxWord as much in a casual conversation in Sun Valley more than a month ago.

“I started Facebook to improve the world, and make it a more transparent place,” he said then. “This movie portrays me as someone who built Facebook so I could meet girls.”

Welcome to the big leagues, Mark.

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TheWrap has learned that behind the scenes, Facebook negotiated for months with Sony to get them to rely on an authorized history of the company written by New York Times writer David Kirkpatrick, instead of a more rollicking, sexy account by Ben Mezrich, “The Accidental Billionaires.”

(The Times article never bothers to acknowledge that Kirkpatrick’s book was done with the company’s cooperation, a fact worth including.)

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“We would have cooperated with them if they could have made a movie that was the real story,” Zuckerberg said.

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The back and forth with filmmaker Fincher, writer Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin did result in changes, but the article doesn’t say what, or how much. Sony did not respond by publication to a request for more detail on what was changed in the film.

Clearly, though, Zuckerberg lost the battle to be the hero of the story. But honestly, if he thought he might win that one, I’m guessing he’s not seen too many Fincher films.

As the Times wrote:

“In Mr. Sorkin’s telling, Mr. Zuckerberg is not so much villain as antihero, a flawed human being whose deep need for acceptance becomes the driving force behind a website that offers the illusion of it.”

How to spin such a PR conundrum?

The company looked at legal action, but the First Amendment seemed to give Sony enough cover to go its own way. That’s likely because the founding of Facebook and its subsequent rise did lead to several lawsuits over who founded what, who owned how much and who retained control.

The lawsuits were settled. So much for finding out “the truth.”

With Facebook under the gun for its privacy policy and under scrutiny for looming so large in society, the company has enough on its plate.

So the strategy has been to ignore the film.

But the trailer is all over the popular social network site, and the Facebook page for the movie has been ‘liked’ by 12,480 people as of Sunday night.

And just wait and see if it gets any Oscar traction. Then they’ll have to ignore it for six months after its release.

It seems to me that Facebook has forgotten the most basic rule of public relations and marketing: any publicity if good publicity, of course. The movie will only draw more attention to the site. It will cement its place in American popular culture.

That is a good thing. Like in previous cases where Zuckerberg has encountered pressure and criticism, he has reacted with a lack of maturity and sophistication. His protests sound like whining. He is taking this all personally — and with the size of the company he now runs, he cannot afford to whine.

I watched his public meltdown at the AllThingsD conference in June, and my sense at that time was that he is too young to be running a company this large and this important — founder or no.

His response to a big Hollywood movie is so far not convincing me otherwise.

"The Social Network" movie will be out on Oct. 1.

Copyright 2012 by TheWrap.com

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