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What 'The Social Network' leaves out

Posted by Jesse Singal  October 7, 2010 11:45 AM

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facebooks.jpg"The Social Network" is, in many ways, a great story of our times, but it doesn't capture the political significance of online social networking. The movie smartly portrays the weird blend of shyness, egotism, and exhibitionism that motivates those who hide behind laptops while gushing about themselves and gossiping about others. But to judge by it, all Facebook has achieved is to give voice to a nation of narcissistic idiots.

But wasn't it just two years ago that many believed that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his minions had elected a president? All those Obama meet-up groups organized via Facebook, largely forgotten now, built up the political network that enabled Obama to defeat Hillary Clinton by rallying liberals in states that awarded delegates through sparsely attended, winner-take-all caucuses. It then became the engine of his fundraising machine. Now, online social networks are helping to fuel the anti-Obama tea party movement. Whatever one thinks about Obama or the tea party, online social networking played a big role in the elevation of both.

"The Social Network" was under no obligation to cover those events, obviously, but they significantly undercut its suggestion that Facebook is nothing more than collegiate online dating services gone wild. As it happened, the movie came out just a few months after Alan Brinkley's biography of Henry Luce, co-founder of Time magazine. And, in fact, Luce and his prep-school and college buddy Briton Hadden had some of the same "frenemy" rivalry and juvenile competitiveness as the boys at Harvard in the early 2000s. They even drew on friends and social networks for their start-up funds. But "The Publisher" goes on to show how Luce's magazine empire, while nationalizing the news business, also gave its leader a platform to antagonize Franklin Roosevelt, promote Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, and apply middlebrow disdain for modern art, among other achievements. In other words, it helped shape the life of its times. So does Facebook.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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