The Social Network – Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

As I think through many of the issues that The Social Network movie puts in the spotlight, things like Zuckerberg’s trial and whether or not he stole the idea of Facebook, his busted relationships with his girlfriend, his business partner, etc., Sean Parker’s success and failure with Napster, the concept of Facemash, and even Facebook itself, I am suddenly struck by a common thread at the heart of all these issues:  ethics.  Ethics—moral philosophy or that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.[1]  And it’s not just the question of right and wrong that the movie brings to light, but even more the changing sense of right and wrong in our modern world—of which Zuckerberg is both a frontrunner and an icon.  I would like to point out some of the new ethics of our generation, the dangerous results of some of those ethics if truly incorporated by all, and then highlight what the Bible says.

One of the easiest places to see the changing sense of ethics is after Zuckerberg hacked (illegally, in case that point isn’t clear by the word hacked) into the databases of several Ivy League schools to create Facemash.  We will get to the issue of Facemash itself in a minute, but for now, let’s focus on the scene where Zuckerberg is facing charges about his illegal creation on Facemash.  After being scolded for his illegal activities, his response was this:

Mark Zuckerberg: As for the charges, I believe I deserve some recognition from this board.
Ad Board Chairwoman: I’m sorry?
Mark Zuckerberg: Yes.
Ad Board Chairwoman: I don’t understand…
Mark Zuckerberg: Which part?

He goes on to explain that the recognition he feels he deserves is for pointing out to the schools the breaches in their online security.  Do you see the shift in ethics here?  The older generation is focused on the point that he broke the law…and therefore did something wrong (so focused on it they can’t even comprehend his request for recognition).  Zuckerberg however seems to feel that his ability to do so (break the law, hack the system) gives him the right to do so.  Shame on the school for not having more intelligent security!  Furthermore, not only does he seem to feel absolved of any guilt, but so far beyond that, he feels the schools actually owe him some level of gratitude for exposing the weakness of their system. 

  • The new ethic:  Ability to do something is a license to do it.
  • Consequences of that ethic:  Laws are useless.  The only limiting factor is someone’s ability – therefore whoever has the biggest stick wins – whether that “stick” is a weapon or an IQ.
  • What the Bible has to say:
    •  Just because you are ABLE to do something, doesn’t mean it is BEST to do something.[2] 
    • Obey the laws of the land:  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”[3]

Since I’ve already mentioned it, let’s look at the concept of Facemash next.  It was a program that put picture of two female students side by side and allowed people to vote on their relative “hotness”.  The program then kept a running comparison based on the votes it received.  What could be so wrong about this?  Surely it’s nothing new that guys will compare one girl to another, focusing on her “hotness.” And certainly, if right and wrong is judged by people’s response, then there can be little said against Facemash.  Within just two hours (well after midnight) the site logged 22,000 hits.  That’s well over 10,000 hits per hour.  These are numbers that many websites hope to log in a month of traffic.  Zuckerberg’s Facemash got that much traffic in its first two hours of inception—before there was even a chance to get the word out about it.  Response among the male population was nearly unanimous interest.  The female population had a more mixed response.  Some were repulsed, some nonplussed, and some were interested and even participating…until they saw someone they knew being rated—at which point it became personal, and offensive.  This shows that, for the new generation, the question of right and wrong wasn’t even a question until it affected someone they knew.  Ethics as it applies to kindness, fairness, privacy, etc., isn’t a global concern.  It’s not a principle that needs to be considered for its widespread application.  It only comes into importance when it is personal.

  • The new ethic:  What I do to others doesn’t matter.  But what they do to me and the people I care about does matter.
  • Consequences of that ethic:  We have a world of people creating the very foul play they are complaining about.  People on both sides of the argument feel they have done nothing wrong themselves, but are victims of all the wrong others have done to them. 
  • What the Bible has to say:
    • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – The Golden Rule.[4]
    • Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.[5]
    • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.[6]
    • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.[7]

Zuckerberg created Facemash in an angry response to being dumped by his girlfriend, right after he posted some very unflattering comments about her on his blog.  He used the internet to vent and take revenge.  His girlfriend, Erica Albright, finds his revenge inexcusable.  “The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink,” she says.  She is right.  The internet is a different mode of communication than what we had in the past and as such is changing the way we view public information.  First off, it is public.  The internet is available to all.  So Mark’s personal feelings and slanderous comments, written while he was in an emotional rage of insult, weren’t written in his private journal or confided to a close friend, or even emailed to a few close friends.  They were posted online for all to see, laugh at, forward to their friends, etc. 

The other odd twist, is though the internet is public, it’s also personal.  Consider this, in the past information that went to the public was filtered through journalists, reporters, etc.  Professionals were responsible to the public for the truthfulness and integrity of the information they communicated.   But the internet is an open forum for all.  It’s not governed by any professional body.  Blogs are matters of personal opinion and completely unfiltered.  Everyone can have a voice, and no one requires that those voices have any sense of integrity, honesty, kindness, etc.  Slander isn’t slander if it’s written in a blog, it’s just one man’s opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, right?  Freedom of speech, right?

And why is it we use the internet to speak verses our mouths these days?  Not only does the internet allow you a much more “powerful” voice, but also a much safer place to speak from.  First, I want to clarify my use of powerful.  This isn’t saying you are saying good, worthy, powerful things.  Much of the internet is filled with powerless drivel. But, even that powerless driven has power in the sheer masses of people it has the potential to reach.  But, Mark didn’t say any of his bitter rant to his girlfriend’s face.  He said it all online.  The damage was far greater as it humiliated her so much broadly.  But, it was a coward’s way to go about it.  A his girlfriend pointed out, “You [write your comments] from a dark room, because that’s what angry people do nowadays.”  The internet has made it safer to be cruel. 

  • The new ethic:  I am entitled to say or post whatever I want on the internet.  I have a right to voice my opinion and free speech.  The question of cruelty is secondary to my right to post my opinion.
  • Consequences of that ethic:  Opinion takes precedence over truth.  Essentially the opinion columns carry more value than honest reporting on the internet and as such, there is no need for any fidelity to truth, integrity or responsibility to others in what we post or forward.  The internet makes it easier to be cruel and magnifies the damages.  Case in point: Rutgers Suicide.
  • What the Bible has to say:
    • The Bible talks about the power of the tongue.  How much more so when what we say is immortalized on the internet. “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”[8]
    • “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”[9]

The story of The Social Network is told through the trial in which Zuckerberg is accused of not giving fair credit to those involved with the creation of Facebook. He was asked by the Winkelvoss twins to help create the site.  He agreed, then stalled and avoided them while he created Facebook on his own.  Granted, he had some similar ideas, and did have the programming ability—he did, at the very least, string them along until he got enough of a head start they weren’t any threat of competition.  And arguably, while he had some similar ideas (Facemash), the actual concept of Facebook was theirs.  He also used his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, for capital and strung him along until he wasn’t needed and then cut him out of the deal. 

It’s hard to figure out what all motivated Zuckerberg.  It doesn’t seem to be about money with him.  It appears to be more about pride.  Zuckerberg doesn’t want anyone else to share the credit for Facebook.  It was HIS genius.  His intellectual brilliance translates to a sense of superiority over all.  For example, read what he said to the grey-haired lawyer who was defending the Wilkevosses: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”  Zuckerberg seems to feel that he is above the contributions of any lesser mortals. 

  • The new ethic:  Entitlement.  We don’t owe anyone anything.
  • Consequences of that ethic:  Theft is not a sin anymore.  How can you steal from someone else if it’s all owed to you anyway?  Teamwork, humility and putting the needs of others first are no longer valuable qualities (except as you find them in others who direct them to you). 
  • What the Bible has to say:
    • Recognize the contributions of others.
      • Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.[10]
      • Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.[11]
  • God values unity and harmony
    • I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. [12]
    • May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [13]
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.[14]
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.[15]

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the new sense of ethics in The Social Network, but it’s enough to get started.  So, if our sense of right and wrong is changing, and if our new sense of right and wrong has some negative consequences, then what can we do about it?  Unfortunately,  a sense of morality has to be instilled, not mandated or legislated.  That’s not to say that legislation can’t help.  If the consequences are painful enough, they can deter people from doing wrong…until they find a loophole around the consequences, a way to beat the system.  But when they do, they’ll feel the system owes them some recognition and appreciation for pointing out its inadequacies. 

So, legislation has some merit – and certainly, we can’t forgo it altogether.  However, it has its limitations.  It will regulate behavior to a point, but what really needs to be changed is the heart.  When the heart is right, legislation is no longer necessary.  For example, you wouldn’t have to legislate against stealing if the population didn’t want to wrong its neighbor.  Just like, there is no need to legislate against eating poop – no one wants to do it anyway!   Until people care more about doing right by their neighbor than they do about what they are entitled to, we aren’t likely to see much change.  Fortunately, we believe in a God who changes the hearts of men. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • Do you believe your ability to do something is what gives you the right to do something?
  • How do you think the internet has changed our sense of privacy?  Morality?  Etc.
  • Do you think people who post on the internet have a responsibility to their fellow man to truthfulness and kindness?  Or is the internet a place where “all bets are off”?
  •  Has our idea of what is “theft” changed throughout time?
  • Does your evaluation of the movie itself change based on how true it is or isn’t to its portrayal of people and events?
  • What other ethical dilemmas do you see in The Social Network?  How do you think the Bible would agree/disagree with people’s behavior in the movie?
  • How do you think some humility would have changed Mark Zuckerberg and his relationships with others?



[2] I Corinthians 10:23

[3] I Peter 2:13-17

[4] Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31

[5] Ephesians 4:29

[6] Romans 12:10

[7] Philippians 2:3

[8] James 3:5-9

[9] Proverbs 6:16-19

[10] Romans 13:7

[11] James 5:4

[12] I Corinthians 1:10

[13] Romans 15:5-6

[14] Romans 12:10

[15] Philippians 2:3