‘The Social Network': Separating Fact From Fiction

With “The Social Networkdominating the box office this past weekend, moviegoers may walk away thinking that they’ve gotten an inside look into the history of Facebook and toured the mind of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. What they may not know is this: While screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s in-depth research did yield a film with plenty of fact, there is also a fare share of fiction squeezed into the movie’s two-hour run time, according to New York Magazine.

A recent profile of Zuckerberg in The New Yorker and another of Facebook’s former president Sean Parker in Vanity Fair shed some light on the actual people behind the world’s most popular social network. Zuckerberg said it best when he told The New Yorker, “I think a lot people will look at that stuff, you know, when I was 19, and say, ’Oh, well, he was like that … He must still be like that, right?'” Here’s our take at separating some of the fact from the fiction in “The Social Network.”

The girlfriend from Boston University; In the opening scene of “The Social Network” — arguably one of the movie’s best — Zuckerberg’s girlfriend Erica (played by Rooney Mara, aka the new “Girl With the Dragon Tatoo”) breaks up with Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and tries to excuse herself to go home so she can study. Zuckerberg keeps blowing her off, telling her she doesn’t need to study. Finally she asks him why and he deadpans, “Because you go to BU.” Boston University students may not be happy about the insult in Sorkin’s script, but here’s the dig: Erica Albright was made up for the film.

Sean Parker discovers Thefacebook: In this scene from the movie, Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker discovers Thefacebook.com after a one-night-stand with a girl who doesn’t even know that he’s the man behind Napster. But in actuality, Parker told Vanity Fair, he discovered the website on the computer of his roommate’s girlfriend, and decided to send Zuckerberg an e-mail suggesting that the two of them meet. Parker then flew out to New York, had a meeting that may or may not have been as awe-inspiring as “The Social Network” played it up to be, and the rest is history.

Infatuation with final clubs: Zuckerberg’s apparent infatuation with Harvard’s esteemed final clubs and his envy over his then-best friend Eduardo Saverin’s acceptance into one is fodder for some of the main drama in “The Social Network.” Despite the great dramatic tension it creates, both Zuckerberg and his dorm neighbor at Harvard, Slate.com’s Nathan Heller, say that the film’s depiction of the Facebook creator’s obsession with getting in to the final clubs is absolutely ridiculous. Heller argues that “the notion that a crack Web programmer in 2003 would find his future blocked off by their fusty gatekeeping is risible.” Still, the fiction does make for great cinema.

Underage Facebook interns and cocaine: It’s no exaggeration that Parker is known for his heavy partying and rock-star persona, even by his own admission. But the sequence in “The Social Network” where Parker is busted by the police in Palo Alto with underage Facebook interns, alcohol and cocaine is a definite case of fact reworked as fiction. Parker was arrested with cocaine, and it did result in his being let go as company president of Facebook, but it actually happened on a kiteboarding trip to North Carolina in 2005. Though Parker was never formally charged with possession of the illegal drug, Facebook’s investors and employees lost confidence in Parker’s ability to do his job appropriately, and he relinquished his post.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan: It’s really not clear why Sorkin and director David Fincher decided to leave Zuckerberg’s longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan out of “The Social Network,” considering he met her in the winter of his sophomore year, which was around the same time that he founded Thefacebook. The only real explanation could be that they didn’t want their portrayal of Zuckerberg to be a more sympathetic character because he was maintaining a relationship with the same woman, though the two of them did not start dating until 2005 after he hired her to work at Facebook. The Zuckerberg in the film is not motivated by a desire to attract women; if anything Facebook becomes the object of his affection — but considering Chan has become such a big part of his life in the present day, it seems remiss to ignore her existence in “The Social Network.”

Did you think that “The Social Network” was pure fact, or did you realize that some of the information was embellished upon for the film? Hit the comments with your thoughts!