'Facebook isn’t defending free speech, it’s assaulting truth,' the screenwriter wrote.

By Nick Romano
October 31, 2019 at 12:14 PM EDT

Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind 2010’s The Social Network, continues to field queries about a potential sequel to his dramatization of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. While we may never get The Social Network 2, Sorkin definitely has something more to say about the social media platform in the year 2019.

In light of Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress and his speech at Georgetown University regarding fake political ads that run on Facebook, Sorkin penned an open letter to the tech mogul that was published by The New York Times on Thursday.

“Facebook isn’t defending free speech, it’s assaulting truth,” the Hollywood wordsmith wrote.

Sorkin recalled how Zuckerberg once protested The Social Network as “inaccurate” way back when and how “Hollywood didn’t understand that some people build things just for the sake of building them.”

Credit: Everett Collection

“It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates,” Sorkin wrote. “I admire your deep belief in free speech. I get a lot of use out of the First Amendment. Most important, it’s a bedrock of our democracy and it needs to be kept strong. But this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.”

The current dilemma surrounding Facebook involves Zuckerberg’s attitude towards the ability of users to spread disinformation, specifically in regards to ads published on Facebook that do so against political candidates. One such fake ad that Sorkin mentions specifically in the letter spreads the unfounded claim that Joe Biden paid billions to the Ukraine attorney general to not investigate his son.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled Zuckerberg before Congress on Capitol Hill and asked whether or not Facebook intends to fact check these political ads. Zuckerberg responded by saying Facebook admins would remove content “if anyone, including a politician, is saying things that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm or voter or census suppression.” However, through a non-answer, he implied the company would not remove content from politicians for spreading disinformation.

“In a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves,” he said.

“If I’d known you felt that way, I’d have had the Winklevoss twins invent Facebook,” Sorkin wrote in the letter in response to that quote.

The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, starred Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and followed him through his years at Harvard University, the founding of Facebook, and his legal woes with the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer), who claimed in their past lawsuit that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them.

During his Georgetown University speech, the real Zuckerberg emphasized his viewpoint on political ads. “While I certainly worry about an erosion of truth,” he said, in part, “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judged to be 100 percent true.”

Sorkin continued, “Half of all Americans say Facebook is their main source of news. Of course the problem could be solved by those people going to a different news source, or you could decide to make Facebook a reliable source of public information. The tagline on the artwork for The Social Network read, in 2010, ‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.’ That number sounds quaint just nine years later because one-third of the planet uses your website now.”

Earlier this year, Sorkin discussed The Social Network sequel hopes with the Associated Press and acknowledged he “knows enough to know that there should be a sequel.”

He said at the time, “I’ve gotten more than one email from [the film’s producer Scott Rudin] with an article attached saying, ‘Isn’t it time for a sequel?’” For now, real life is more dramatic than any sequel.

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The Social Network

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  • David Fincher