Revisiting: “The Social Network”

Elijah Robinson, Opinion Editor

The late David Foster Wallace, who wrote modern classics such as “Infinite Jest” was quoted as saying , “The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.”

This quote epitomizes the angst one or many, may have to do something against the dread loneliness provides. Then, as the capitalist adage goes, when there’s customers, there’s a market.

That’s where social media comes in.

Social media makes the illusion of inclusion accessible to everyone under the impression that friendship and bonds are just a click away or a post away. What’s left out of this privilege are the roots of its conception, and the titans behind it.

“The Social Network” is a film adapted from the book “The Accidental Billionaires.”

It is by no means an accurate account of the founding of Facebook. Some aspects are embellished, and some aspects of the film are true.

Above all, its storytelling, tone and meaning to the current times and to film history makes it true in its own way.

This screenplay is a modern-day “Citizen Kane” — where a highly privileged and powerful man tries to bend the world to his will, in absence of something meaningful he lost.

With Charles Kane, it was his childhood sled, with Mark, it was Erica.

Even more so, Kane and Mark built empires, where the world is run by them; one in the form of widely circulated tabloids, the other in the form of a widely used social media platform—and the stated purposes of those mediums are backhanded by their founding in resentment and entitlement.

Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a gifted, but gauche computer programmer, who’s mission is to do something substantial to get the attention of the final clubs on Harvard campus.

We see the students, mind you—future CEOs and politicians—as drunk and horny as any other student on any campus you find. The final clubs that Mark wants to get into, despite their questionable values, hold tremendous power because of their exclusivity.

This film has fidelity to the themes of the movie. In the first scene where Erica breaks up with Mark, we see him in his pathetic attempt to defend his fixation on joining a final club, he explains being a member would make her look good.

That pitiful line was thrown right back at him when the Winklevoss’ and Narenda pitched Harvard Connection to him, as he was just coming off the spurns of Facemash.

In Mark’s way, he gets vengeance on rowers, as his former girlfriend admired guys who rowed crew. As far as the exclusivity, that was the appeal “TheFacebook” of the time as it was originally available within the residential houses. Lastly, as far as final clubs, that’s one of many things that’s behind the breakdown of the only human element Mark has in his life.

Eduardo Saverin is Mark’s only friend, primary financier and CFO of Facebook. He is an excellent supporting character as he is the angel on Mark’s shoulder, and stands for everything Mark wanted from the beginning.

Saverin gets into a final club, gets a girlfriend and is better at dealing with people, which allows him to be the face of the company. He also is on Mark’s side from the beginning.

He was there when Erica broke up with him. He provided the algorithm for the Facemash ranking system, he was waiting outside during his Ad Board meeting.

Saverin was the first person Mark came to for the idea of Facebook. He even indulged Mark’s soft spot for final clubs by saying his own admittance was merely a “diversity thing” because he was Jewish and Brazillian. This also leaves him emotionally vulnerable to betrayal.

We see a glimpse of measured iconoclasm with the conflicts in this film. Class structure was rigid and it defined the connections one would make and where that could take you.

The Winklevoss’, for instance, believed that since was the most prestigious email account in the country, and girls want to date guys that go to Harvard, the idea was great.

There was also a belief that since they rowed for the Olympics, paid a lot for tuition and their father had connections to get them a meeting with the President of Harvard, they were entitled to a certain result, as they took for granted the class protections they inherited.

Facebook was revolutionary in that it broke down those barriers. All you had to do was create an account.

In the context of film history, it re-contextualizes traditional themes of greed, and immorality—modifying it for the 21st century, and in this era, Facebook has grown into its own Frankenstein.

Facebook has grown from more than a cool and casual meeting platform. It is now a means of communication, political maneuvering and news.

Its stature has grown so much since its founding in 2004, it was used to connect among protesters for the 2011 Egypt Uprising, leading to the resignation of their president. Facebook used data mining as a tool to target users for political advertising in 2014 and 2016.

“Privacy is a relic of a time gone by,” said by Sean Parker in the film as he goes through his run-ins with companies doing everything they could to destroy his credibility as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry after founding music platform Napster.

His entire story is prophetic in that social media companies work hand-in-hand with businesses destroying privacy rights in order to get every cent possible by targeting people with relevant ads.

This film and Facebook’s entire reason for existence goes to show that even when shattering barriers meant to protect old money and troglodytic values, the house always wins.

In many ways, innovating the way we communicate, brought new reasons to distrust and disassociate as reality is not reliable anymore. Who are our friends? Who is watching us? Why are we still divided?

In pursuit to curb loneliness and remain supposedly connected to the world, loneliness has increased as many Facebook users today see a modified version of their friends’ lives, and unfairly compare that to their own, which continues the anxiety loop capitalism counts on to keep people comparing, working and buying.

The void many find themselves in due to this ironic twist is not exclusive, and is further exacerbated when we see social stratification crumble before us.
We see now that in this telling of the story of Facebook, the man behind it had the same goal as most young men. And in absence of something meaningful, a vacuous empire is created where more have less than they did before.

This portrayal shows it is perhaps more easier to control the hearts and minds of people, than to have personal locus of control.

At the end of the film, Mark’s expressionless eyes when refreshing his Facebook page, hoping Erica accepts his friend request, despite being the youngest billionaire in the world, puts a very nice and familiar bow to this story.

It’s a traditional motif in the arts that most things are meaningless without women. In a world ruled by men, in a country ruled by white men, that continues to be the case.

Despite increased democratization of the workplace, politics and media, and the increased autonomy and agency women have, the purpose for men to conquer, build and provide has not gone away.

Being worth billions of dollars, and owning a platform that has a monopoly on people’s communication and information means nothing to Mark. Owning all of the statues and exotic animals of the world meant nothing to Kane.

The times with Erica and Eduardo were the only times he was connected to the world.

This misguided solution to this void is now shared with billions of people.