What better way to smooth over a Hollywood-cooked public relations disaster than by feeding $100 million to schools in need?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg-who is being relentlessly derided by former acquaintances and business partners in the build-up to a movie about the social network’s creation-is donating $100 million to help improve public schools in Newark, N.J.
Zuckerberg, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, will announce the gift, geared to start a foundation for education, on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” Sept. 24, according to The New York Times.
Zuckerberg, who grew up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, has no formal ties to Newark. The Times said Zuckerberg and Booker met at a conference this summer. There, Booker told the CEO of the world’s leading social network, which has more than 500 million users, about his plans for the city.
The $100 million number is an astronomical sum for this type of gift, and it marks the largest donation Zuckerberg has ever made.
Coincidentally, or not, Zuckerberg’s gift and appearance on one of the most popular talk shows in the world comes just hours before the film The Social Network is set to premier at the New York Film Festival.
In the movie, directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), actor Jesse Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg in an unflattering light. A blurb on the Film Society of Lincoln Center Web site, which is airing the premier Friday, noted: “The Social Network is a scintillating play-by-play of the meteoric rise and acrimonious fall of the founders of Facebook-Harvard undergrads who developed their zeitgeist-altering phenomenon out of their dorm rooms. . .and ended up suing each other for millions.”
Facebook, which is reported to abhor the film, would not comment on the veracity of the Times’ report.
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When eWEEK asked whether or not Zuckerberg is making the donation to counter the bad press the movie is expected to bring, a Facebook spokesperson said, “I’m afraid we have nothing to announce.”
At least one social media analyst who follows Facebook closely was hesitant to attribute the donation announcement to the timing of The Social Network.
Calling the donation an “extraordinary sum for a school system that can desperately use the cash,” Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray noted that while the timing of this donation might seem coincidental with the release of the film, Zuckerberg’s image has been in need of aid for some time.
“He’s been the target of several scathing books and plenty of angry blog posts about his opinions on personal privacy and Facebook’s privacy settings, ” said Ray. “I’m inclined to feel that this is part of a longer term effort for Zuckerberg to give back to others while improving his reputation rather than it being a specific broadside at the upcoming movie.”
Indeed, Zuckerberg, whose fortune Forbes estimated at $6.9 billion, has often been accused of being cavalier about user privacy. The company has weathered several privacy concerns, dating back to a failed advertising program called Beacon in 2007, up through its Instant Personalization effort this past spring.
Learning from such past resistance, the company was largely praised for the privacy measures it provided for Facebook Places earlier this summer.
Fair or foul, Zuckerberg has seen some nasty allegations mount just ahead of the film’s opening. Content ranges from the publishing of instant messages in which he expressed insensitivity about people and discussed cutting them out with “dirty tricks,” to an unflattering anecdote made public by Zuckerberg’s fellow Harvard classmate, Aaron Greenspan.