Aaron Sorkin wrote one of the best movies of the decade with the scathing The Social Network. Although Mark Zuckerberg would like us to believe that the genesis of Facebook came about because he was just so gosh-darned concerned about the Iraq War and not a spiteful little dweeb who made a hot-or-not clone called Facemash, the events that led to Facebook’s creation were successfully chronicled in Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires and then adapted by Sorkin and David Fincher to provide a bit of sympathy to Zuckerberg but not so much that the film missed the irony of someone who built a way to connect people but ended up completely alone.
Although a Social Network sequel isn’t on the horizon, Sorkin took to the pages of the New York Times to call out Zuckeberg’s hypocrisy on allowing “users to decide for themselves” when allowing politicians to lie in their paid ads while demanding total honesty in all depictions of himself. As Sorkin points out:
I didn’t push back on your public accusation that the movie was a lie because I’d had my say in the theaters, but you and I both know that the screenplay was vetted to within an inch of its life by a team of studio lawyers with one client and one goal: Don’t get sued by Mark Zuckerberg.
It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates. I admire your deep belief in free speech. I get a lot of use out of the First Amendment. Most important, it’s a bedrock of our democracy and it needs to be kept strong.
But this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.
I would counter Sorkin’s graciousness by saying that while Zuckerberg may not want “crazy lies pumped into the water supply,” he certainly doesn’t care if they get in there because that’s not his priority. Zuckerberg has allied himself with Trump and Republicans not because he believes their crazy lies, but because they’re less likely to break up his company. If Zuckerberg were smart, he’d regulate himself before someone does it for him, but instead he has settled on a bunch of half-assed apologies and ways to cut the baby in two. Facebook will have fact-checkers, but among them will be irreputable sites like The Daily Caller. Facebook will pay to have news, but among them will be sites like Breitbart, which had a “Black Crime” sections and ran stories saying that women sucked at tech. He’ll say they’ll regulate SuperPAC ads, but not ads from candidates. Mark Zuckerberg loves the crummy illusion of a solution even if no one’s buying it.
The Social Network has a chilling prediction that has largely already come true when Sean Parker says, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” Being on Facebook is like being forced to live in a city where Zuckerberg is the mayor. A sequel to The Social Network exploring that reality would not go amiss, but until then, it’s on all of us to hold Zuckerberg accountable.