‘The Social Network,’ a timely publicity moment for anti-Zuckerbergians

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It’s rare to see a movie interact in real time with news events. But ‘The Social Network’ is the gift that keeps on giving, at least for the business world and the reporters who cover it.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the Harvard twins who allege that Mark Zuckerberg defrauded them by taking their idea for a social-networking site and then running off and creating his own, are making some noise in the wake of the film’s release.

The rowing brothers, played by Armie Hammer in the film, in 2008 received an estimated $65 million in stock from Facebook to drop their case. But they’re reopening the case in part because of the publicity associated with the film.

There’s no new legal action revealed in this Bloomberg appearance from Thursday. The reopening of the case alluded to is a reference to what we began hearing about in the spring -- namely, that the Winklevoss brothers are revisiting the case because of the alleged overvaluation of Facebook stock in the settlement payout. (The twins say that because the stock was overvalued and Facebook knew it, the company is guilty of securities fraud and the twins are owed more money, possibly as much as $35 million.)


But the media appearance, like others of its kind, is an attempt to add a little heat on a man who’s already under the Klieg lights. It may indeed be a smart strategy -- if Zuckerberg is donating $100 million to a school system to burnish his image, he might agree to fork over some more to make the Winklevoss brothers go away.

‘What Mark did to us was pretty treacherous,’ Cameron Winklevoss tells Bloomberg’s Margaret Brennan. ‘The reason why we’re here today and the reason this is not a closed matter [is that] Facebook and namely Mark Zuckerberg ... have failed to make resolution despite many good-faith efforts on our parts.’

No doubt some will say that the brothers are simply taking advantage of an anti-Zuckerberg wave. But whatever you believe, the claims they’re making, and the attention they’re getting in making them, form the latest notable turn in this art-parallels-life experiment. It shows what happens when a movie takes on real-life events with real-life egos and money.

The Winklevoss twins in this segment reference a New Yorker article that revealed that Facebook suppressed documents they say they had a right to review -- documents that go to their core claim that Zuckerberg took their idea. And it’s of course unlikely the New Yorker article and many others would have been written if there weren’t a big movie on the way.

In essence, this is exactly what Facebook was worried about -- that the movie would shine a light on the very things on which it hoped it had flipped the off switch years ago. (In a statement to Bloomberg, Facebook said just that: ‘We’ve considered the Winklevoss dispute closed for years.’)

It’s still an open question what kind of legs all of these Facebook-related stories will have -- we’ll know a lot more about the movie’s cultural staying power from the ‘Social Network’ box office this weekend. But even if the film went away tomorrow, there’s already a juicy turn in Hollywood taking its cues from facts in making a movie, and then the facts changing because of that movie.

--Steven Zeitchik


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