Last night, I finally got around to seeing The Social Network. (I know I’m late to the party.) It was a great film; it was funny, moving, dramatic, and full of intrigue. Jesse Eisenberg gave a stellar performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake also played their roles to perfection. But I’m not here to sing this film’s praises. This fictionalized account of Facebook’s creation has a message: people are curious, easily manipulated, and obsessed with sex. We see these faults in the fictional versions of the people behind Facebook, but they’re the kind of faults that everyone possesses and have allowed Facebook to become an international phenomenon.

The Social Network traces Facebook’s origins to Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in his sophomore year at Harvard, when after a bad breakup, he gets drunk, blogs horrible things about his ex-girlfriend, and creates a website called Facemash for rating the attractiveness of female students. Later, after being told of an idea to help students connect on campus, Zuckerberg runs with the idea, and using Facemash as a basis, makes his own social networking website for Harvard students, The Facebook. Soon, it expands to other campuses in New England, and within a year, it drops the “The” from its name, spreads to over 100 colleges and universities, and even reaches Europe.

This expansion is driven by two things. 1) Facebook is cool, and people want to be cool; when their friends tell them that Facebook is the new hot thing, like lemmings, they also jump on board. 2) Facebook allows people to satisfy their curiosity. It’s not the kind of curiosity that drives researchers to make scientific breakthroughs; it’s more like snooping. People want to know everything about the people they’ve met. In some cases, it’s just for the sake of knowing, but in others, it’s to add more weapons to the arsenal that will help them get laid. Need to know a girl’s interests, hobbies, and relationship status? It’s all on Facebook.

Are people that easily manipulated and obsessed with sex that when given a potential solution to their romantic issues, they’ll jump on it, even if it could potentially compromise their privacy? Apparently, yes. Consider this: how many times have you heard a group of people gossiping about how one of their friends had changed his or her relationship status to “It’s complicated?” But Facebook isn’t a digital Moses for parting girls’ legs; it comes with a number of complications. How much Facebook stalking is too much? At what point is it acceptable to change one’s relationship status? What kind of profile picture should one use in order to attract potential partners?

Now, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that Facebook revolves solely around sex. People use it for many other things: sharing news, creating online photo albums, organizing events, etc. The first two functions are aimed at satisfying users’ curiosity, but the third is more interesting. It exploits the curiosity that brought people to Facebook in the first place and can mobilize these people. Think about it: all the important parties are on Facebook; all the big charity events are on Facebook. If it’s big and important, then it’s on Facebook.

I have painted Facebook as a monstrous entity that has exploited our libidos and our voracious appetites for gossip to become a global phenomenon, but that might be unfair. Facebook has done some good. It allows friends to keep in touch. It makes event planning easier. It facilitates the sharing of information. The Social Network ends with Zuckerberg logging on to his Facebook account and sending a friend request to the woman who dumped him at the start of the movie. Perhaps Facebook has succeeded because it appeals to a deeper, simpler desires than sex and gossip: don’t we all just want to be friends?

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