The Social Network & Social Determinism

The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher
Jesse Eisenberg
Andrew Garfield
Justin Timberlake
Armie Hammer
Max Minghella

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Fig. 1: The Social Network was released in the United Stated by Columbia Pictures on October 1, 2010.

The Social Network (Fig. 1), is the true story about the founding of Facebook and the entire lawsuit process surrounding its creation. Jesse Eisenberg plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the two other individuals involved in the creation of the website.

Fig. 2: Sean Parker suggested to Zuckerberg that he drop the “the” from “thefacebook” during their first time meeting.

The creation of Facebook was inspired by multiple old-fashioned directories containing students’ photos, names, private information and more issued by U.S. universities way before Mark Zuckerberg even created his website. Nearly 17 percent of all online minutes across all platforms is devoted to social networking sites and it was specifically Facebook’s desire to make itself even more attractive to mobile users that pushed the company in 2012 to buy Instagram for $1 billion (Baran, 2015. p. 242). It all started back with, which launched in 1995 and was followed by sites such as Friendster in 2002, LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003. (Baran, 2015. p. 242). In late 2003, Zuckerberg created a Harvard campus website called Facemash by hacking into his university’s database to accumulate photos of females students and placing them on the website so that male students could rate each girl’s attractiveness. When the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra invite Zuckerberg to work on the Harvard Connection, an idea comes to Zuckerberg’s mind for an online social networking website that would be exclusive to Ivy League students called Thefacebook. While the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra are livid over their belief that Zuckerberg stole the idea from their Harvard Connection website, the Harvard President, Larry Summers, sees no issue due to the fact that in all reality, Thefacebook could indeed be argued as an accumulation of multiple social media creations over time. It isn’t until Zuckerberg connects with the napster co-founder, Sean Parker, that the “the” from Thefacebook is dropped and it becomes simply Facebook (Fig. 2).

The new medium of Facebook and specifically the mentality surrounding its creation is an idea of social determinism, according to Zuckerberg. He says, “This is what drives life in college-are you having sex or aren’t you… this is why people take certain classes, sit where they sit, do what they do….” For Zuckerberg, Facebook is a technological solution thats economic drive and cultural change is driven by society and people as opposed to the ideas referred to as technological determinism in which some theorists believe it is machines and their development that drives economic and cultural change (Baran, 2015, p. 16).  Zuckerberg has a conversation with his friend Justin in class who is questioning whether a girl at Harvard is single or in a relationship. This brings Zuckerberg to realize that students want to know each other’s relationship status and this is a key factor in driving social determinism. This realization pushes him to run home to add a “relationship status” element to Facebook before launching it. This clearly portrays how it is social determinism that drives the cultural and social changes in the new medium of Facebook as opposed to the actual technological creation itself. The fact that students want to know every detail about each other is an element of social desire and human interaction that drives the success or failure of a socially-driven technological innovation such as Facebook.

As stated before, Facebook was not simply just Zuckerberg’s idea alone. Other technological inventions have improved  the system of Facebook and social interaction across previously created means of communication still continue to influence Facebook’s development over time. Take for example, the fact that HarvardConnection, which perhaps spurred the idea of Facebook, may not have even been a thought if there was no such thing as e-mail. Email allowed internet users to “communicate with anyone else online” (Baran, 2015, p.238) and since users of HarvardConnection needed to have Harvard University’s .edu email account to access it, this medium would not have even been possible if other technological creations were not involved. We cannot ignore the appearance of LANs and WANs,which made it possible to connect more than one computer within a certain area (LANs) or even in separated locations (WANs) (Bara, 2015, p.238) which would significantly help HarvardConnection spread. As we discussed in class this past week, technological evolutions are the continuous movement of technological revolutions. Also, when a new technology is introduced, there are always multiple people who invented the technology behind the innovation. People invent various means of technology and people use or do not use these technologies based on accessibility and/or popularity. Furthermore, “the decisions are ours” (Baran, 2015, p.259) in determining what we engage in and how we engage in it across social media outlets. Thus, the success or failure of a technological innovation stems from social determinism, which opposes the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Joseph C. R. Licklider, and William Gibson who claim how technology itself changes our society and culture.

Fig. 3: College students thrive on engaging with one another through social media as it drives many of their decisions in the real world.

In the movie, Sean Parker stated that, “we lived on farms and then we lived in cities and now we’re gonna live on the internet.” In this statement, Parker means that he views a future surrounded by technological transformations and digitization is just another step in the direction of a new way of living. If so, is it going to be a better world? McLuhan introduced the idea called the global village that said, “the new communication technologies will permit people to become increasingly involved in one another’s lives” (Baran, 2015, p.245). He assumed that people would grow closer on the internet because it connects people, allowing them to become “one family” and exchanging thoughts easily as if they all lived under one rooftop. Baran mentions that online feedback on the internet “is more similar to feedback in interpersonal communication than to feedback in mass communication” (Baran, 2015, p. 245). We communicate with each other through the internet, the largest mass communicative technology out there. Zuckerberg comments in the movie that, “college kids are online because their friends are online” (Fig. 3). Facebook is an extremely popular tool of communication among friends and family members. In fact, Facebook ranked third in 2012 for the number of monthly visitors on the Internet in the U.S. according to Quantcast 2012 (Baran, 2015, p.241). People put plenty of personal information on Facebook that they believe is kept private and only to be seen by “friends.” However, people complain about the leaking of their personal information when it reaches a third party whom they do not know. Today, the border separating the social media world from “real” life is blurred and almost one in the same due to individuals’ leniency in placing personal details of their life on the social network.

The most valuable commodity that Facebook generates is it’s user-generated content. It is the people that make the site more or less valuable. It is truly a social networking site that thrives off of social engagement. Similar to other online mediums, Facebook makes possible easy dataveillance-the massive collection and distillation of consumer data (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Through Facebook, one can distribute and share personal, private information among organizations other than simply the one for whom it was originally intended (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Employers can access this information and more or less, anyone who wants to know something about a person can simply buy into the necessary means to get hold of this information without even having a person’s permission or knowledge of the act itself. Eduardo Severin, Zuckerberg’s business partner and roommate said, “It was a great idea. There was nothing to hack, people were going to provide their own pictures, their own information…” Severin believed that anyone could put his or her information out there and it was a conscious decision to do so.  It is not until issues of online privacy come into play that the protection of personal information becomes a larger issue. According to the international human rights group Privacy International’s Global Privacy Index, the United States ranks in the lowest category of “endemic surveillance societies” (Baran, 2015 p. 253). Online privacy will continue to be an issue as people increasing leak their personal information onto a website or social media outlet and it spreads to unintended people or areas.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 10.” Mass Communication, Culture and Media Literacy. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print