The Social Network is a horror movie — one that only gets scarier over time
The decade since the film's release has revealed the villainous truth about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg
Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
Contains strong language.
Upon its release in 2010, I (hilariously and very uniquely, of course) referred to and wrote off David Fincher's The Social Network as "The Facebook Movie." At the time, I thought building a film around a social media phenomenon was absurd, and that the forgettable-seeming Mark Zuckerberg hardly seemed like a compelling cinematic protagonist. And I was half right: while The Social Network went on to establish itself as one of the most relevant movies of the 2010s, Mark Zuckerberg was never a hero — in film or in real life. Instead, Fincher accurately painted him as the monster making calls from inside the house; as the predator whose lust for notoriety outweighed his moral compass.
Because in the end, that's exactly what The Social Network was: a horror movie — and one that only gets scarier over time.
Of course, 10 years ago, most of us were unaware of the shitstorm we were in for. Back then, Facebook was still mostly just an exercise in perpetual annoyance and oversharing. No longer cool to post three photo albums of a night spent sitting around a friend's kitchen table, a new type of content rushed in to fill the void: wall post after post by people we would've gladly lost touch with had Facebook not existed. In retrospect, this wasn't actually so terrible; after all, the site was still a few years away from becoming a mecca of bots, corruption, slander, and right-wing propaganda that had a profound impact on the 2016 election.
But we're talking about The Social Network specifically, a movie that follows a bitter and misogynistic computer genius whose claim to fame comes after his successful hacking of the Harvard computer system (something he only did in order to create a game that rated female students' looks). In fact, Fincher's version of Zuckerberg is driven almost entirely by ego and sexism. When he's dumped by a woman who calls him out on his classism and complete lack of empathy, he retaliates by building a media empire. But this empire isn't even his own idea: he steals the concept for Facebook from a set of Harvard twins (both played by Armie Hammer — terrifying unto itself) who invite him to help build their project. Then, he absconds with their brainchild and launches what would ultimately become a curse upon a world.
Mark Zuckerberg was never a hero — in film or in real life. Instead, Fincher accurately painted him as the monster making calls from inside the house; as the predator whose lust for notoriety outweighed his moral compass.- Anne T. Donahue
And, of course, it gets scarier. In addition to this young, flip-flop-wearing man's lust for infamy (truly a Jason or Michael Meyers of our time), we see the way he evolves from a character who could be saved from himself into one who'll do anything to ensure his untouchability. He sells out his best friend/business partner and robs him of his rightful financial gain. He joins forces with Napster's Sean Parker (played a little too on-the-nose by Justin Timberlake, which has made him my enemy for life) and begins gulping the now-too-familiar Kool-Aid of tech bro entitlement. And he leaves nothing but destruction in his wake: economic ruin, trashed relationships, the effects of emotional and mental cruelty, and not a single apology. But, hey, at least he got rich.
In 2010, this seemed far less jarring than re-watching it today. But in hindsight, we've come to see Mark Zuckerberg's real-life actions as the foundation for unparalleled political fuckery, as well as the damaging nature of media empires and unchecked power. We understand the consequences of granting one person enough power to build a monolith that grows stronger the less it respects the privacy of its usership. And worst of all, it's finally registered that there's no real end to Zuck's reign — that what took place at Harvard over 10 years ago set the stage for our own demise. (A bit rich coming from someone who still happily uses Instagram, I know.)
But Fincher seemed to understand it all. The Social Network sets the making of its villain to an edge-of-your-seat soundtrack, making Zuckerberg's origin story even more terrifying. It's a lesson in the effects of selfishness and capitalism. It's a cautionary tale about whom among us will be spared when the giants of tech turn on their customer base (spoiler: none of us). It's hours of nervousness and uncertainty before ... nothing really happens.
But of course, so much has and so much did. To watch The Social Network today feels like a warning. It's a horror film about how easy it is to slip into bed with the person who is out to do you harm. The movie rightly villainizes the behaviours we've come to normalize from successful white men because they're smart or driven, and it paints them exactly as threatening and cold as they really are. After all, the story seemed almost novel in 2010 when our biggest social media worries were whether or not the people we liked were going to accept our friend requests. But that's how the bad guys win: when your guard's down, when you're not looking, and when they accept that friend request and begin plastering your feed with propaganda.