New Criticals

The cuts that switch between the two scenes of action are violent. The women at the frat party are interpolated as data in the program, and this appears as aggressive editorial splicing. While the film offers a fictional origin story for Facebook—Erica Albright—it makes highly visible the exploitation of images of women, which is the Facebook origin story. As Melissa Gira Grant has described it, women “and their representations are [an] intentional . . . part of Facebook”: “the unpaid and underpaid labor of women is essential to making [Facebook] go, to making it so irresistible.” Problematically, despite making this labor visible, the film still skews the historical record of women, particularly Asian American women, who worked at Facebook as programmers and customer service staff in its early incarnation. As Lisa Nakamura highlights, in The Social Network the depiction of “Asian women’s labor as sexual rather than technical obscures rather than exposes the workers of color who ‘make’ social media.”

Alongside the construction of the social network played out in the Facemash scene are contrasting practices of reading and writing, which are represented on-screen as the blog post/voiceover and the programming code. In the scene the depictions of writing flicker between writing plaintext with HTML (for the blog) and writing command code (for Facemash). These are two different languages. Both are higher-level programming languages, but HTML is written in plaintext (natural language) with additional rules that are deployed to dictate the appearance of that text online. The code for Facemash is a structural layer below this (such as C++). The scene is soundtracked by pounding dance music, and within the same long scene (full of short edits) we see the instant “liveness” of Facemash as (mostly male) students in other dorms get sent a link to the site and begin rating the photos. The ellipses between Zuckerberg’s blog text (readable) and his program text (code) serve to give an impression of fluidity to the procedures for writing structural code. The voiceover in this scene explains the procedures of code, framing the visually disconcerting switches between scenes and screens with a smooth technical narrative that performs the disciplinary norms of patriarchy in a manner that seems like algorithmic inevitability. The dialogue in this scene that refers to code is, for the most part, technically authentic—the only changes Mark Zuckerberg requested to be made to the script were those referring to the programs and algorithms he used to build the initial site. The voiceover has the added effect of distinguishing between the two writing procedures, giving human inflection to the blog post, which in turn functions as a way for the viewer to understand what is happening in the representation of code writing.