There were many implications to Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony regarding Facebook’s inappropriate data mining and accommodation of Russian propaganda. What these revelations meant for all the fanfiction that had been written about Zuckerberg wasn’t chief among them, but looking back on Zuckerberg fanfic is nevertheless a fascinating and often surreal experience given what we now know about the man and his creation.
The bulk of Zuckerberg fic was written a year or two after 2010’s The Social Network, although stories continue to trickle in today. Zuckerberg does not come across well in The Social Network—he’s portrayed as a cold, manipulative, petty, and status-hungry, but brilliant robot. Fanfic writers focused on that brilliance, then added a misunderstood heart of gold, an impressive penis, and remarkable stamina.
Archive of our Own, a “cornerstone” of the fanfic community, has 1,378 stories tagged with Zuckerberg’s name. Zuckerberg’s most common romantic partner is Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who Zuckerberg booted from the company after diluting his shares to relative worthlessness. Saverin sued and walked away with a 4-5 percent stake that ended up being worth billions. To many fanfic writers, the emotional crux of the movie was all just a lover’s tiff: 85.7 percent of their stories are tagged “Eduardo Saverin/Mark Zuckerberg,” a "slash fiction" indicating the romantic pairing that readers could expect to see.
There are multiple stories where Zuckerberg works for days without sleep and Saverin tenderly convinces him to take a break, usually a break involving sex. In one story called “Halocene,” an angry Saverin tells a female Zuckerberg “You should have sex with me so I could get over it,” it being tricked out of a company worth billions. They have angry, mind-blowing sex (we learn that Mark knows a few “trick moves”), then decide to stay together because “even in this universe … where there are closed accounts, dilutions, abandonment, and betrayals, maybe they could have something that would last.”
In other stories, instead of suing Zuckerberg, Saverin decides to spank and then hump him into an “attitude readjustment.” Zuckerberg develops leukemia, and Saverin returns to the lover that scorned him to help him through his treatment. Zuckerberg hacks the Oscars in The Social Network’s favour to impress Saverin. An 84,000 word novel gives them a complicated romantic history, while a much simpler story merely declares “Mark is a huge slut.” Saverin and Zuckerberg are reimagined as librarians, baristas, doctors, an elderly couple, a priest and a possessed man and, in a Never Let Me Go crossover , clones. “Slytherin!Mark” becomes an “internationally-acclaimed wandmaker.” There are stories written in Chinese and Russian. Mark turns into a cat, leading to the immortal line “‘Don't you dare growl at me, Mark Zuckerberg,’ Eduardo warns.” There is, throughout all of this, a tremendous amount of sex, both tender and absurdly raunchy.
Zuckerberg also hooks up with Dustin Moskovitz, Sean Parker, one or both of the Winklevoss twins, and all of them at once. But time and again writers return to the idea of Zuckerberg and Saverin finding true love despite what came between them. The message is that Zuckerberg screwed other people but should be forgiven because he’s such a nice guy at heart. All these writers watched a movie that said “Mark Zuckerberg succeeded by being a bad person” and came away with “Mark Zuckerberg succeeded by being a sexy, underappreciated genius.” Or, as one writer put it, “Mark can't say that he’s sorry. He has to hope a kiss will do instead.”
When the The Social Network was released, it was criticized for taking dramatic liberties. Saverin says he holds no ill will towards Zuckerberg today, and he still sporadically uses Facebook, although it’s unlikely that he secretly wants marathon, pulse pounding sex with Zuckerberg. Nevertheless, Saverin being dismissed through underhanded tactics and his subsequent lawsuit were very real, and fanfiction interpreted it as a cute story where no one was really at fault and love triumphed.
Tech writers have pointed out that The Social Network looks dated in the wake of recent criticisms of Facebook, but this is especially true of its fanfiction. Aside from having to look at one of the richest and most influential men in the world while knowing that thousands of people have speculated that he has truly incredible sexual abilities, stories that romanticise Zuckerberg and his work now look quaint and naïve. The movie and fanfics weren’t really interested in the phenomenon of Facebook, only the personal drama behind it. We’re only now starting to realise that the former is far more important.
It was easy to forgive the fictional Zuckerberg for being flawed when there were no consequences to his actions beyond a few Harvard kids losing out on money they’d make later in their careers anyway. It’s harder when the real man holds responsibility for blithely harvesting the personal data of millions, unwittingly serving as a propaganda organ for Russia, and putting a stranglehold on the news industry, among other alleged sins. It’s difficult to imagine many people looking at the awkward Zuckerberg that appeared before Congress and feeling the urge to write a story where he’s a misunderstood genius whose brilliance applies equally to programming and fucking. Zuckerberg fanfiction is odd, and often hilarious, but in just a few years it’s aged into a stern reminder to be careful about who you idolise as faultless.