Friday, December 31, 2010

An Unwitting Update To The Social Network

If there’s anything we can say about The Social Network, it’s that it’s spawned an interest in the internal machinations of Facebook that was previously a niche one. So I suppose we have the movie to thank for this wonderfully amusing story about how the Winklevosses—the inventors of a rival social network that Zuckerberg “stole” the idea from and subsequently initiated a lawsuit—have decided that their very generous settlement is not enough:
The details of the new dispute, which erupted almost immediately, are less known, in part because the parties reached the settlement after a confidential mediation. But according to court documents, the parties agreed to settle for a sum of $65 million. The Winklevosses then asked whether they could receive part of it in Facebook shares and agreed to a price of $35.90 for each share, based on an investment Microsoft made nearly five months earlier that pegged Facebook’s total value at $15 billion. Under that valuation, they received 1.25 million shares, putting the stock portion of the agreement at $45 million.

Yet days before the settlement, Facebook’s board signed off on an expert’s valuation that put a price of $8.88 on its shares. Facebook did not disclose that valuation, which would have given the shares a worth of $11 million. The ConnectU founders contend that Facebook’s omission was deceptive and amounted to securities fraud.

(via Felix Salmon)

Whether or not this floats as a matter of law, I’m pretty confident as a matter of ethics it makes them seem even more ridiculous than they seemed to be before, because the Winklevosses did absolutely nothing of value in making Facebook, and the only reason they were being paid was to make them go away.

Since that’s so, we are presented with the incredible prospect that The Social Network actually went easy on the Winklevosses, who were meant to seem like honorable, yet behind-the-times social achievers. Many people complained that the movie was just a bit too mean, particularly to the coders and geeks who have inherited the earth, but of course the movie went easy on Mark Zuckerberg too (google: “Mark Zuckerberg IM” if you’re intrigued and happen not to be my Mark-Zuckerberg-hating friend you know who you are, see you in Miami). The movie went easy on practically everyone!

Does that mean we have to reassess the movie? I don’t think so, actually: I’ve long maintained that stories have to manipulate reality for their own purposes, and one of purposes was to talk about the particular generation born in the mid- to late-1980s that’s skewered there. Making the Winklevosses into huge jackasses might have been accurate but isn’t very interesting when comparing them to the other high social achievers who aren’t huge jackasses. But still: it’s pretty funny that the Winklevosses are huge jackasses.

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