The Social Network: What I Thought

The Social Network is renowned for being, quite deservedly, one of the highest rated films on RottenTomatoes, the only problem being that I can’t ascertain why this is. The film documents Mark Zuckerberg’s journey to stardom, from launching Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard, to enjoying the title of youngest ever billionaire. Unlike many, I have tried to keep on top of Facebook’s clashes with litigation over the years, what with people claiming IP rights over the site, and so on. Luckily, most people aren’t like me, and don’t obsess over the things such as this. It would seem, then, that the film’s appeal isn’t in its story. That isn’t to say it isn’t a well-strung narrative. It truly is. Zuckerberg’s story is relayed to us through a series of committee meetings, and legal depositions, where slowly, we see Zuckerberg’s story unravel, one piece at a time. It’s a story that is told very well, and will have you engrossed. What is the film’s appeal, then? It’s acted well, the music fits just right, and for some, it may even move you.

I think the magic of this film is that we can all relate to it. The premise is far less boring than it sounds, and what is revealed to the audience is a tale of friendship, betrayal, honour, and above all, unrequited love. Like most films in this vein, it both starts, and ends with a girl. The film opens with Zuckerberg’s then girlfriend, Erica Albright (played by Rooney Mara) breaking up with Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). What then unfolds is a fabulous story led by Zuckerberg’s insecurities, and his quest for not only recognition with women, but recognition from his Ivy League peers, and their fraternity network. Along the way, you’ll see how Zuckerberg’s relationship with his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, evolves. You’ll see Zuckerberg clash with well-backed socialites Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, owners of social network ConnectU, who claim Zuckerberg ‘stole their idea’ for Facebook from a joint project they all worked on. You’ll also see how entrepreneur Sean Parker, creator of Napster, had a profound effect on Facebook’s evolution. The story definitely has some weight to it, to its credit, with every turn causing the audience to question what exactly is going on in Zuckerberg’s head.

Zuckerberg is portrayed as a ‘typical’ geek; lacking in social skills, but academically brilliant. However, there’s always an idea lying on the table that Zuckerberg isn’t comfortable in being how he is. It’s almost like he is driven in his endeavours to become something better, whether a ‘jock’ on the rowing team, a hit with the ladies, or simply someone who is popular, and well liked. With so many competing themes at play, it’s sometimes hard to decipher why not only Zuckerberg, but the supporting characters act as they do. For instance, Cameron Winklevoss’ initial refusal to sue Zuckerberg, who advocates to deal with his disagreement with Zuckerberg like a ‘Harvard man’, is one notable example. Another is a move made by Saverin towards the end of the film, which could likely have jeopardised their entire operation. While there is a lot of confusion as to the motivations of the film’s characters, that’s part of its beauty, and humanises the characters it portrays to a great degree. These characters feel, more or less, just like you or I. Of course, it’s not every day that we sue our best friends for 600 million dollars, but the feeling is there that this is real life, only escalated to gargantuan proportions. That, I think is what makes this film really special.

How would I rate it, then? I would definitely see the film again, given the chance. I’m also most certainly purchasing it when it’s released. The Social Network is a wonderful film, which is certainly most worthy of your attention.


Facebook’s ‘New’ Privacy Settings

I’m sure many of you are aware of Facebook’s ‘new’ privacy settings (take note of the inverted commas) that were rolled-out a couple of days ago. Facebook, understandably, was in a very compromising position back then, holding secret meetings, while Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, made something of an effort to appear in photographs, sweating profusely and looking quite unhinged, wherever possible. Whether he’s genuinely going insane, or this is just a display to show that he genuinely cares about the privacy of his users, is subject to debate.

So, what do the ‘new’ settings actually do? Not much, to be honest. They seem to be more of a clarification of Facebook’s existing settings, this time with the addition of ‘recommended’ settings for those who don’t have the time to safeguard their privacy online. Shame on you. More alarmingly, from a PR standpoint, the page neglects some key messages that Facebook should be placing front and centre. The admission that Facebook doesn’t share profile data with advertisers isn’t exactly comforting (instead Facebook are assuming the role of would-be advertising arbiters, which is just as bad) but is something that they need to definitely shout about more. Copywriters and content strategists everywhere are simultaneously spontaneously combusting, I’m sure. Also, their bit about protecting minors that is squashed in at the bottom of the page? Please.

Shiny, right? This should make modifying privacy settings as easy as cake!

I don’t really think this ‘major rehaul’ counts for much. Unless you’re going for the ‘recommended’ settings (which you shouldn’t), everything is exactly as it was before, only tarted up with a fancy new page which lets you access different groups of privacy settings. Facebook, and Zuckerberg said earlier on this week that they wanted to make customising settings as easy as possible. Sure, they let you clearly see what settings you’re currently using, but changing them is a completely different matter. I thought the page that’s depicted on Facebook’s new ‘privacy guide’ would be clickable, letting you change your settings then and there. This would have been intuitive. Instead, if you do want to modify anything, you’re led to Facebook’s old, unfriendly page of drop-down boxes. To be honest, I’m disappointed. I expected more, even from Facebook.

WRONG! Good one, Facebook! You almost tricked us there.

Whether people agree with, or like the ‘new’ settings remains to be seen. Quit Facebook Day is still going ahead. However, I think that Facebook have missed a chance to address a key problem: decentralisation. Decentralisation is a good, nay, a wonderful thing in most cases. With the proliferation of Facebook mania, with things such as Facebook Connect, which has lead to users creating content independent to Facebook, under their Facebook identity, which Facebook themselves have no control over. The implications of this have yet to be seen, but it is worrying knowing that Facebook have masterminded such a scheme to get people to share online (a very good thing) while implying, through association, protection over these new content streams (not a good thing). Am I suggesting that Facebook further police all content produced by its users? Hell no. It just needs to be a lot clearer about its jurisdiction in these matters.

All that’s left is to wait and see what happens.

What do you think of the ‘new’ privacy settings? Do leave a comment and let me know!

Facebook, Interests, and Privacy

I’ve just been on BBC Radio Solent, speaking to the lovely Steve Harris about my views on Facebook and privacy.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date, you’ll know that Facebook have been having something of a hard time, recently, what with Quit Facebook Day fast approaching. They’re set to announce new, simpler privacy settings this evening, and I’ll be keeping my ears open. I think Facebook have certainly been abusing their position as a makeshift Information Commissioner, for those familiar with the Data Protection Act.

Something that I think has flown completely under the radar, however, is Facebook’s radical redesign of its users’ ‘Information’ pages; a former space where you could write to your heart’s content about what you’re interested in, in whatever format you desired. All this changed a few, short weeks ago, when Facebook essentially catalogued each one of these ‘interests’ as fan pages. Essentially, you can no longer like anything without ‘Liking’ it. I think this is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it removes any notion of individualism from the site, as users are now defined by the connections that tether them to a predetermined set of interests. Confusing, right?

For example, say I like The Beatles. I don’t think this would define me absolutely, as there are many types of Beatles fans. This is obvious. I could, say, insist that I like their ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but not their later psychedelic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That little difference is what defines me as a certain type of Beatles fan. It’s what signifies me as myself. Under Facebook’s new information regime, I wouldn’t be able to just type that in the ‘Music’ section of my Facebook profile. I’d only be able to include that I’m a fan of The Beatles, which doesn’t really say anything about me at all. It’s these differences in opinion, expression, and even syntax that define me as a person. Instead, I’m now forced to live my life as an all-encompassing Beatles fan. I’m forced into a convenient pigeonhole, where I define myself through a predetermined list of interests. The network has lost its dynamicism, which is a very sad thing.

Why have Facebook done such a thing, then? To move on to my second point, to further exploit us as commodities to advertisers. Thanks to this new hierarchy, Facebook now (potentially) can map out advertising reach a lot easier, by saying to advertisers, ‘Look, we’ve got X number of Beatles fans that you can advertise to!’ The new system will clearly make number crunching a whole lot easier to sell us, and our information, which some of us are unwittingly giving away.

My main gripe is that Facebook has lost its focus. When I first discovered the social network back in 2006, I was attracted to its simplicity and uniform layout, as opposed to MySpace. When Applications arrived, I balked. Slowly, Facebook has turned its users into commodities, which we can see clearly now, and we’re very, very angry.

I’m very eager to find out what Mark Zuckerberg comes out with this evening. I’ll be listening intently, probably along with the rest of the world.