Cover Story

Facebook: At the Movies with the Winklevosses


"It's a little surreal," says Cameron Winklevoss, standing outside the Sony (SNE) office building in midtown Manhattan with his twin brother, Tyler. "Like hearing your voice on an answering machine."

The Winklevoss brothers have just joined a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter for a screening of David Fincher's taut and suspenseful film The Social Network, which opens on Oct. 1. The movie depicts the hydra-headed controversies over the origin of Facebook, including the allegation that Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg agreed to write code for the twins on a similar social network before surreptitiously starting Facebook and riding it to riches. The brothers, both portrayed in the film by actor Armie Hammer, resolved their litigation with Facebook for $65 million in 2008, though they are now contesting the settlement, hoping to get more.

The Winklevosses, strapping Olympic rowers who look exactly alike, are fairly surreal offscreen, too. They dress preppily, carry identical gray Tucano man purses, and occasionally bicker over how to best answer questions.

Like everyone else in the movie, the picture of the Winklevosses that emerges from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's acid-tipped pen is not flattering: They are portrayed as pampered athletes with no high-tech chops who come up with the kernel of a business, then do little more than act distraught when Zuckerberg fleshes out the idea and makes it his own. "I think we're fairly confident that the truth speaks for itself," Cameron says.

What's True, According to Them

As the twins cab to a restaurant, zipping past billboards for the film with actor Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, they pick a few nits. They forged their initial partnership with Zuckerberg in the Kirkland House, a Harvard dorm, and not, as the movie depicts it, at the Porcellian, one of the exclusive undergraduate clubs to which the Zuckerberg character pines for acceptance. Cameron says he never chased Zuckerberg through the Harvard quad; and Tyler thinks that Eisenberg's mournful eyes at the end of the film reveal more guilt than the Facebook chief executive officer ever actually expressed. "The real-life Mark Zuckerberg," he says, "has never shown that inner turmoil in the six years I've dealt with him."

They think parts of the movie are dead-on. In one pivotal scene, then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers brusquely dismisses the twins' claims, telling them to get over it and start another business. "It definitely captured the tenor of Larry Summers and how he dealt with us, the lack of tact," Tyler says. "We came into the office not feeling good about the situation, and we left feeling certainly a lot worse."

The Zuckerberg character gets the last word on film, saying the brothers are suing because, for the first time, life hasn't worked out as they had planned. The twins spend a good deal of time discussing and rejecting the idea that they felt any sense of entitlement, while pointing out that Zuckerberg had a similarly privileged childhood. "There is no entitlement in the sport of rowing. There is no entitlement in the Olympic Games, and quite frankly there is no entitlement to gaining admission to Harvard," Cameron says. "The reason we were upset," he continues, "is not because life didn't work out the way it should have, but rather because what he did was wrong. His behavior was unethical."

As the discussion concludes, the brothers agree others in the movie fare a lot worse—such as early Facebook President Sean Parker, devastatingly portrayed by Justin Timberlake as a narcissistic clown, and Zuckerberg, who avenges social rejection by creating perniciously viral websites and punishing his closest friends. "There are other individuals portrayed in the movie that have a lot more to be concerned about," says Tyler. About their own characters, "I felt you saw guys who were acting within the system, who went about things the right way." "But I don't wear ear warmers," Cameron adds. "That's something that is not real."

Stone_190
Stone is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco. He is the author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown; October 2013). Follow him on Twitter @BradStone.

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