As a movie based on social networking site Facebook readies to hit the theatres next week, company officials are bracing for the film that casts its founder as a “scheming backstabber accused of stealing the idea for Facebook.”

‘The Social Network’ will premiere at the New York Film Festival on Friday and Sony Pictures will release it widely on October 1. The movie, with the tag line ‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,’ is about the “messy and contentious founding of Facebook.”

It is an “unflattering portrait focusing on the legal clashes between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard classmates over who should get credit for the social networking phenomenon,” a report in the Los Angeles Times said.

The report said that Facebook executives were worried that the movie could damage Zuckerberg’s image and even pressed the filmmakers for changes in the movie. However, the film’s makers did not make changes in the movie.

“Now Facebook — often criticised for being too cavalier with the intimate details of other people’s lives — is bracing for a movie that casts its chief executive as a scheming backstabber accused of stealing the idea for Facebook,” the report said.

Zuckerberg, 26, founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room six years ago. It now has 500 million users and has catapulted Zuckerberg to being one of the youngest billionaires in the world today.

According to the latest Forbes list on America’s 400 richest people, Zuckerberg ranks 35. He is richer than Apple boss Steve Jobs and has a net worth of 6.9 billion dollars.

Neither Zuckerberg nor his close associates cooperated with the film, except for providing some biographical background on Zuckerberg and referring the filmmakers to speeches he gave.

‘The Social Network’ is directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin and is made on an estimated budget of $50 million. American actor Jesse Eisenberg is playing the role of Mark Zuckerberg in the movie.

Facebook investor and board member Peter Thiel says the film is “at its most fictional in its portrayal of Mark. It’s a pretty good portrayal of how business gets done in Hollywood, but not how business gets done in Silicon Valley.”

The filmmakers on their part say they set out to “capture a generation-defining moment,” weaving a story from different points of view of the founding of Facebook. Film’s producer Scott Rudin said the movie is the story of a guy with a remarkable vision.

My personal feeling is that Mark Zuckerberg did not steal anything,” added the Oscar-winning producer, whose credits include ‘No Country for Old Men’ and the Merryl Streep starrer ‘Julie and Julia.’

Rudin said the filmmakers decided against having Facebook participate in the movie after Facebook executive Elliot Schrage demanded in their first meeting that they change the names of Facebook and Harvard.

Schrage and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg saw the movie and told Rudin they weren’t happy about the way it portrayed their boss. Sandberg thought the depiction of Zuckerberg was not “sympathetic,” said Rudin.

“In the end they would want too many controls and we would want too many liberties,” Rudin added.

Rudin further said that a Facebook executive even expressed worry the movie could hurt an initial public offering the company is considering.

Even though any stock offering is at least a year away, the executive worried that skepticism over the company’s origins could lower its valuation, currently estimated to be over 20 billion dollars. Zuckerberg owns more than a quarter of Facebook’s stock and controls votes for three of five board seats.

In a July interview with ABC News, Zuckerberg described the movie about his company as “fiction,” adding: “the real story is actually probably pretty boring.” He has said in interviews that he had no plan to see the film.

“If this movie becomes big, a lot of people will be exposed to a side of Mark Zuckerberg that won’t reflect positively on privacy issues on Facebook,” senior analyst at Forrester Research who follows social networking companies Augie Ray was quoted as saying in the LA Times report.

Zuckerberg has managed to keep a low public profile even as Facebook shot to stardom across the world. At Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters, he sits among a “sea of desks like the hundreds of other workers at the company, dressed casually in T-shirt and jeans.”

The company currently has more than 1,700 employees and sales are expected to hit two billion dollars this year.

Zuckerberg has said that his personal mission is to make the Internet a more connected place. Facebook has come under fire from consumer groups, privacy advocates and lawmakers who say it keeps pushing users to reveal more personal information than is required.

Company executives however maintain that they are committed to giving their users the tools they need to protect their privacy.

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Write and win October 26, 2010