Breaking down the different social media personalities that each character of The Social Network represents.
By now, everyone should know that The Social Network isn’t exactly a historically accurate retelling of the creation of Facebook. The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as an insecure but extremely confident, quietly ruthless and unbelievably snarky genius. In actuality, Zuckerberg is more like…well, this:
When a lawyer asks Zuckerberg a question in The Social Network, Zuckerberg fires back with a snide remark, clearly making sure everyone knows that he’s the most intelligent person in the room. In reality, Zuckerberg has much more of a “sentient robot who’s never held a glass of water or even tasted water” kind of vibe. When a lawyer asks him a question in real life, Zuckerberg pretends that allowing false advertising and Russian propaganda on his platform isn’t about money but is about “transparency.”
Writer Aaron Sorkin’s main objective was to create an interesting story with elite dialogue & compelling characters. It was not to give us the true history of Facebook, even though many who watch the film believe it to be fact.
The obvious link between the actual Mark Zuckerberg and his fictional counterpart is money & power, but their attitudes and approach to gaining that money and power could not be more different.
While The Social Network may not have given us the truest picture to understand the makeup of Facebook’s creators, it did forecast the different personalities that would come to define social media in 2020. The most accurate part of the movie is its insight into the psyche of the modern-day social media user. Without even realizing it, this film warned us about the types of people you’d meet on Facebook and Twitter 10 years ahead of time through its characters. This is the breakdown of what each character represents in today’s social media landscape:
The Troll: Mark Zuckerberg
The real-life Zucks loves pandering to the trolls that use his platform while the fictional version is the ultimate troll. In fact, the movie begins with him calling out his girlfriend who had just dumped him and then creating a website where you rate female Harvard students based on their looks. It doesn’t get any more troll-ish than his scathing “review” of Erica Albright.
Fictional Zucks loves presenting himself as anti-establishment but deep inside he desperately wants to be a part of the “establishment” and to fit in. He also uses the same tactics that the “establishment” does in order to get ahead.
Throughout the film, the main contention between Zuckerberg and his best friend, Eduardo Severin, is that Severin makes it into the most exclusive Harvard club on campus. Zuckerberg never hides his disdain for the the Phoenix Club although internally he’s jealous of his friend.
He also secretly appreciates the exclusivity of the club, even though he was unable to get in. As a result, part of Facebook’s initial make-up is exclusivity. Only users who attend certain schools have access to the site. This is a total troll move- outwardly “hating” something because of your jealousy and then using the thing you “hate” for your own benefit after you’ve openly criticized it.
That’s just one example of the continuous trolling that Zuckerberg takes part in. He steals the Winklevoss Twins’ idea (although greatly improves upon it) and shoves it in their face during their legal mediation, almost quips the lawyers representing the men suing him to death, plays a prank on potential investors out of spite in the name of Sean Parker which somehow gets them to invest anyway and repeatedly betrays his best friend. All of this while having zero self-awareness or empathy.
The Hashtag Activist: Eduardo Severin
A “Hashtag Activist” is someone who follows a recent trend online that’s in support of a good cause. They post the hashtag and then move on with their lives, more often than not completely forgetting about what they were supposed to be promoting until the next time they want to look “woke” for their followers. The gesture is hollow and they end up doing nothing of any actual impact.
This is going to sound harsh, but just like a “Hashtag Activist,” Severin does nothing of any actual impact for Facebook in The Social Network. His “hashtag” is the money that he fronts to help start Facebook. That’s pretty much all he does that’s even relatively meaningful for Facebook.
Instead of fully committing to building the innovative social media platform, Severin only steps in half-way. The biggest sign of this is when he accepts an internship in New York City instead of going with Zuckerberg to Silicon Valley for the summer. If he had fully believed in Zuckerberg’s direction, he would’ve gone with him. Instead he claims to be meeting with advertisers in NYC (and failing) while Zuckerberg is succeeding without him.
He held the title of CFO of Facebook but had an internship across the country. He wanted all the acclaim and accomplishment that would come with Facebook’s success without doing anything to truly help get it there.
White People Complaining About Their “Problems”: The Winklevoss Twins
The Winklevoss twins are both men. They’re both white. They both come from an incredibly wealthy family. They both go to Harvard. They’re both Olympic level “athletes” (I put athletes in quotes because crew is more of an exercise than a sport). They are identical twins, so they both have the dashing good-looks of Armie Hammer. Any problem they would encounter could almost certainly be summed up as a “white person” problem.
The Winklevoss twins came up with an ok idea that they did not have the skillset to bring to life on their own. So, like their rich white ancestors before them (I assume), they tried to get someone else to do it for them. They hoped to reap the rewards of another individual’s work.
Their problem in this movie is that Mark Zuckerberg took their idea, made it 1000 times better and did it on his own, all while stringing them along. When they discover Zuckerberg’s deceit, they did as their white ancestors did before them (again, I assume), and sued for a piece of a pie that they probably didn’t deserve.
The success of Facebook without them would not have made a significant difference in their lives or standard of living. They’d still be rich and successful. They’d still have Armie Hammer’s looks. And most importantly for them, they’d still be white men. They’d be completely fine. That’s why it’s called “white people” problems and not just “problems.”
The Influencer: Sean Parker
It’s scary to think about how large Napster was and how just about anyone under the age of 25 hasn’t even heard of it. For those of you who don’t know what Napster was, it offered free music downloads through file-sharing before it was outlawed. The influence it had on the music industry is immeasurable. It’s basically the reason we have iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, streaming, etc. It had a hand in all of it.
That’s the literal application of how Sean Parker, inventor of Napster, is an influencer. Now for the Social Network portion.
In the movie, Sean Parker is cashing in by image and clout alone. He wants everything to revolve around him and everyone to think he’s amazing. By no means does he actually live the kind of lifestyle he’s trying to project into the universe. It’s all for show. He sees the potential of Facebook and leaches onto Zuckerberg because he know that’s the ticket to continuing his illusion.
He also literally influences Zuckerberg to do a number of things throughout their relationship. Zuckerberg wants to be just like Parker and doesn’t realize that, for the most part, it’s all a facade. He’s a hopeless follower until the walls come crashing down with Parker’s arrest toward the end of the film.
The Facebook Stalker: Christy Lee
Christy Lee is Eduardo’s girlfriend. Facebook has poisoned her mind so much that she is obsessed with checking in on Eduardo. She thinks he’s cheating on him and doesn’t know why he hasn’t changed his Facebook relationship status to “In a Relationship.” For some people like Christy Lee, updating your relationship status means something. For people who haven’t been on Facebook for months, it’s not. Her paranoia gets so intense that she starts a fire in Eduardo’s room. There’s not really much more to say here, the connection explains itself.
The Clapback Queen: Erica Albright
First, I’d like to note that the term “clap back” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. That’s hilarious.
Second, the definition from said dictionary is the verb “to respond quickly and sharply to criticism” or the noun “a quick, sharp, and effective response to criticism.” A clapback can certainly be done in person but it’s also something that can go incredibly well when done virtually on social media.
Erica Albright is a Clapback Queen. After an exhausting back and forth with Zuckerberg, where Zuckerberg repeatedly belittles and shames her based on her “status” as a Boston University student, Albright has had enough and breaks up with him using the above quote.
First comes the backhanded compliment, saying Zuckerberg will be a successful “computer person.” There’s acknowledgement of Zuckerberg’s talent. But there’s also the confirmation that Albright doesn’t really know what Zuckerberg’s talent is nor does she really care.
Then there’s her summing up that they both know Zuckerberg will have girl trouble. She says it so matter-of-factly that it’s hard to notice that on top of calling out his future girl problems, Albright also calls him a nerd.
And then comes the part that makes this clapback so epic. Albright gives him the bait, making Zuckerberg think that this might take a positive spin. “And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true.” Making him think that Albright didn’t mean what she just outlined for him. And BAM. She pulls the rug out from under him and hit’s him with the, “It will be because you’re an asshole.” She wants to be sure Zuckerberg can’t make any excuses for why people don’t like him. She’s taken that away from him. To be disliked because you’re a nerd ultimately means you’re disliked for a relatively positive aspect about yourself. Disliking something good about somebody is irrational and it’s easier to take dislike when it’s irrational. Albright made sure that the dislike for Zuckerberg would be entirely rational. Just a masterclass in clapping back.
Later in the movie, after Facebook has had some success, Zuckerberg sees Albright in a restaurant with some friends and wants to clear things up in private with her. This is weeks or months after he trolled her as a result of her original clapback and breakup. Not only does she not speak with him in private, she eviscerates him in front of her friends and ends with the knockout blow as Zuckerberg walks away, “Good luck with your video game or whatever.”
Clap. Back. Queen.
Woke: Marylin Delpy
Marylin Delpy gets it. She’s the junior lawyer working for Zuckerberg’s defense in “present day”, and just sits and listens and takes everything in. She’s listened to the entire Facebook saga, been there for all of the mediation, heard all of the accusations, witnessed Zuckerberg’s standoffish and egotistical attitude and by the end of the movie, she’s figured everything out.
Being woke is about having a deeper understanding of what lies under the surface and sorting through the B.S. For instance, when Zuckerberg says he’s checking in on the Facebook launch in Bosnia, Delpy astutely remarks on how absurd it is that, “They don’t have roads but they have Facebook.”
At the end of the movie, Delpy summarizes everything we’ve just watched in about 2 minutes. She knows Zuckerberg isn’t actually a bad person. She knows most of what she’s heard from the prosecution is exaggerated. “Creation myths need a devil,” she says. She also knows that Zuckerberg has to settle because he’ll never be able to win in front of a jury.
Ultimately, she knows that Zuckerberg isn’t an a-hole, he just wants everyone to think he is. He spends the entire movie trying to be noticed and trying to get recognized. She knows that he thinks the only way he can accomplish this is to be a complete jerk. And fitting for someone as woke as Marylin Delpy, she’s granted the last and most memorable line in the entire movie.