One of the finest films of the decade, The Social Network still manages to be a valuable landmark for how we assess the impact of social media.
Facebook may be viewed as the uncool auntie of the social media landscape now, but it’s difficult to overestimate the global influence of the company and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg since its inception 15 years ago. Released in 2010, David Fincher’s The Social Network tells the story of that inception and the people involved. Watching it in 2019, the film has the undertones of a horror. After all, it was made by the guy who directed Seven – it doesn’t help that Kevin Spacey’s name appears in the credits as executive producer. That bit of nastiness aside, the wonderfully chilly tone of The Social Network hits on the growing feeling of unease in many quarters regarding the impact of social media platforms, particularly Facebook, not just on children, but on politics, culture and wider society. In defining how we communicate and interact with each other, essentially everything is on the line here.
Based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay claims artistic license with the facts. It pissed off pretty much everyone portrayed in the film. Its structure, on the other hand, is meticulous, flitting smoothly between the main narrative and the depositions taken in the respective lawsuits Zuckerberg then faced from fellow co-founder Eduardo Saverin (pushed out of the company) and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (claimed Zuckerberg stole their idea). Kudos goes to Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall for the slick editing, deservedly scooping the award at the Oscars for their work.
In representing these ‘he said, she said’ cases, where emotions run high and accounts differ, The Social Network feels somewhat self-referential in its own looseness with reality. It speaks to a larger discussion of what is ownership in the internet age, one that has only ballooned in the years since the film’s release and plagues content creators online today. More pressingly, it seems to foreshadow the discourse surrounding fake news that has become such an urgent talking point when integrated with social media’s unrivalled ability to spread disinformation. As has been well-publicised, Facebook has been on the end of many related criticisms concerning its role in allowing Russian-sponsored advertisements onto its site in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election.
It is to Sorkin’s credit that he is able to concoct a thrilling drama from guys writing code, talking about writing code, and then writing some more code, always making it feel about something much greater. Fincher’s direction comes in handy here. His precise, steady camerawork is cold and impersonal, mirroring the cogs and gears turning in Zuckerberg’s brilliant mind yet his complete social ineptitude too. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a foreboding score, headlined by the essential ‘Hand Covers Bruise’. Overlaying single piano notes with a droning distortion…it’s a haunting theme. Their score is chiefly responsible for the sense of dread that permeates The Social Network.
What that dread seems to be building towards is the betrayal of a friend, Zuckerberg screwing over Saverin, ending up alone in the process, isolated despite founding the largest social platform on the planet. Several years on, the potential interpretations of this anxiety seem to have spiralled. It now represents the creation of something that has long exceeded the control of a few Harvard undergrads, something that can be used and manipulated any which way depending on the agenda. Sorkin has discussed the possibility of a sequel. With Zuckerberg providing testimony to Congress last year, and Facebook’s use of personal data still a matter of great scrutiny, this story appears far from over. What we see in The Social Network is just the beginning.
The Social Network (2010), directed by David Fincher, was distributed in the UK by Columbia Pictures, certificate 12A.