Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg times big schools gift with unflattering movie release


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg--who placed as the 35th richest person on the just-released Forbes 400 list-- is giving troubled schools in Newark, N.J., an enormous $100 million gift on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Friday. As it happens, that's the same day an unflattering and much-buzzed-about movie premieres in which he's portrayed as a power-hungry and socially awkward genius.

"The Social Network" premieres Friday at the New York Film Festival, and is already being compared to "Citizen Kane" and "The Godfather," two iconic portraits of powerful men felled by their own ambition.

The 26-year-old hasn't engaged in much high-profile philanthropy so far -- unlike fellow tech billionaire and education reformer Bill Gates -- which makes his Oprah appearance and $100 million gift more notable. Zuckerberg will announce the donation alongside Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, according to the New York Times' scoop. The money represents an eighth of the city's total education budget. Zuckerberg's net worth skyrocketed by 245 percent in the past year as Facebook's market valuation topped $23 billion.

Zuckerberg, described as a "wary and private" person in a recent New Yorker profile, has been forced to tear down some of the barriers between his life and the public. This new plunge into civic-minded activity seems designed in part to fend off bad publicity generated by the film and accusations that as a student, he hacked into private emails and stole the original idea for the site from fellow students. The movie is loosely based on an equally unflattering book by Ben Mezrich, who used a burned former Facebook investor (and former Harvard colleague of Zuckerberg) as his primary source.

According to the movie, Zuckerberg created the site to get admitted to exclusive parties and to meet girls. (Rebecca O'Brien has a more nuanced take on Zuckerberg's college years here.)

"I think a lot people will look at that stuff, you know, when I was 19, and say, 'Oh, well, he was like that. ... He must still be like that, right?" Zuckerberg told the New Yorker. He added that he does not plan to see the movie, though he was spotted by at least two people at a Seattle screening Wednesday.
Whatever the motive for the gift, the money will translate into big changes for Newark schools. Under the terms of Zuckerberg's donation, Christie will give the reform-minded mayor more control over schools. There's speculation he may hire hard-charging D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee to head up schools now that Rhee's prime supporter, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, has been voted out of office. Meanwhile, the nation's education reformers -- who emphasize teacher evaluations tied to student test scores and independent charter schools -- are sure to welcome another billionaire recruit to their cause.

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