If you happen to be friends with Jesse Eisenberg on Facebook, that’s not Jesse Eisenberg. Unlike 1.62 billion other people around the world, the actor and star of the 2010 movie The Social Network is not on the social media platform. Nine years after playing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Eisenberg feels “distance” from the tech billionaire who has since testified before the U.S. Senate over Facebook’s privacy policies.
While promoting his new dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, Eisenberg tells Inverse he feels disconnected from Zuckerberg whenever he reads about either Facebook or Facebook’s founder in the news.
“When I read the New York Times like everybody does, and you have these hearings, what this means for the future of privacy and data, I don’t have anything invested in it,” Eisenberg tells Inverse.
“I read it with a distance I imagine most people don’t read it with. Even though other people associate me with it, I’m one of the few people that doesn’t have a page, so my data isn’t being used for anything.”
In 2010, Eisenberg played Zuckerberg in The Social Network, an adaptation of the 2009 nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Directed by David Fincher, the film told the personal and legal battles of Zuckerberg after founding Facebook. Besides a handful of associates who accused Zuckerberg of stealing the idea for Facebook, a concurrent lawsuit pitted Zuckerberg against his best friend, venture capitalist Eduard Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield).
The film, which received eight Oscar nominations (including Best Actor for Eisenberg) and was voted number 27 in the top 100 films of the 21st century by BBC in 2016, only nodded to the possible ramifications a platform like Facebook could have over millions of people. But not even the filmmakers anticipated the scandals that followed Facebook afterward, or its potential to dismantle democracies.
A telling line of dialogue in the film comes from Eisenberg’s own version of Mark towards Eduardo, “It’s moving faster than any of us ever imagined.”
2018 alone saw Facebook rocked by scandal after scandal, from the massive data harvest by Cambridge Analytica with ties to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, to data breaches in September and December that exposed millions of users’ data, including private messages. In 2019, a report by The Verge revealed the harrowing workplace of Facebook’s content moderators, forced to watch hours of disturbing content that users upload onto the site.
“I read with a distant interest,” Eisenberg says, reflecting on the years of Facebook headlines in the nine years since the film. “Someone with a Facebook page probably looks at me and thinks I have some great association. But when I’m reading, I have less investment, because my picture isn’t on there.”
Eisenberg might be onto something, except that Facebook admitted to creating “shadow profiles” of non-users in testimonies U.S. lawmakers in 2018. To be fair, The Social Network didn’t get that far into the story. Maybe it’s time for a sequel?
The Art of Self-Defense is in theaters on July 12.